Tuesday, 24 June 2008

God’s highway — Thinking Different

When I was vicar of a St John the Baptist’s Church, 24 June was the big annual knees-up. The ancient Collect for today pretty much puts it on the line:
Lead us to repent
according to his preaching,
and accordng to his example,
Constantly to speak the truth,
Boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake.
For as long as I’ve known it, I’ve found this a very disturbing, but compelling vision of how we are called to live. What does John the Baptist have to say to us?

I suspect he would incisively question us over issues we are complacent about, but his big critique would be for the self-satisfied way we approach living itself. We all know about Western comfy suburban religion, but Riazat Butt’s shocking report of the Gafcon presser gave an equally disturbing vision of people subjected to violence and intimidation simply for being who they are, whilst bishops close their eyes and their hearts, simply because the victims are homosexual. If true, what kind of sell-out to prevailing culture is that?

I hear the authentic voice of John the Baptist in some words from the Mennonite tradition, from Rudy Weibe’s 1970 novel The Blue Mountains of China:
The whole idea of Jesus just talking about people being “saved” and feeling good about it is wrong. Quite wrong. He was alive on earth to lead a revolution! A revolution for social justice. The terrible question of his day as it is in ours was and is social injustice to the poor, to the racially oppressed, to the retarded and helpless.

Mary said, “All people will call me blessed because of the mighty things God has done for me, he stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud people with all their plans, he brought down mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, he filled the hungry with good things.”

That’s th
e good news Jesus came to bring and do. And he didn’t do it all by setting up a church that can never change no matter where on earth or in what century it is, a church that’s never as important to us as living, as eating, as making our pile, that’s there for a few hours a Sunday and maybe a committee meeting during the week to keep our fire escape polished, to keep us decent as our parents all told us.

No! The church Jesus began is us living, everywhere, a new society that sets all the old ideas of man living with other men on its head, that looks so strange it is either the most stupid, foolish thing on earth, or it is so beyond man’s usual thinking that it could only come as a revelation right from God.

Jesus says in his society there is a new way for man to live:

You show wisdom by trusting people;
you handle leadership, by serving;

you handle offenders, by forgiving;

you handle money, by sharing;
you handle enemies, by lovin
and you handle violence by suffering.

In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, toward everybody. Toward nature, toward the state in which you happen to live, toward women, toward saves, toward all and every single thing. because this is a Jesus society and you repent, not by feeling bad, but by thnking different. Different.

This is the new society of the “church,” and Jesus is its Lord. “The kingdom of God is within your grasp, repent and believe the good news!”


Tim Chesterton said...

Great to read that quote from Rudy Wiebe, Alan. He lives about twenty blocks from me in Edmonton, and has been one of my favourite writers for a long time. Do you know his 'Peace Shall Destroy Many' and 'Sweeter than All the World'? They are also about Mennonite past and present.

Steve said...

Interesting post. I never 'see' the sexual preference of a person, just the person in front of me. It is very sad when homosexuals are set apart simply because of their sexual preference. The Church should concentrate on the person first. Do we do the same to straight people who may be criminals or abusers? Why should homosexuals have to be so condemned before we even get to know who they are as a person? I hope that the Church can move forward on the way it treats homosexuals, just as it is moving forward with other radical ideas, like female Bishops!

The Exegesis Fairy said...

That's such a wonderful and terrifying challenge. God give us strength, because we can't (and shouldn't even try) to bring in the Kingdom on earth without Him.

Ann Memmott said...

"The terrible question of his day as it is in ours was and is social injustice to the poor, to the racially oppressed, to the retarded and helpless."

I'm guessing that in the '70s they could get away with describing people with learning disabilities as "the retarded" too?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Tim, many thanks for the other book refs. I don't know them, and will look into ways of laying them on for summer reading. Steve, I think this is the key to how Jesus saw people — gay hating societies will produce their own gay-hating Jesus, albeit with difficulty, and perhaps gay loving societies will produce their own version. The man himself modelled seeing the person behind the stereotype, even in the case of acknowledged sinners, let alone others. Ann, the extract is almost 40 years old, and like the use of the term "man" would probably not be expressed in these words today.

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