Paul Tillich once said, “Here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves, is a new creation”. One could not have a better summary of our life in faith. Every ounce of who we are as God’s people has to be reflected in action. Who we are, how we live and who we belong to are all tied up in the life we lead, both as individuals and as a church community. We do not exist as human beings with little boxes for this or that, but as a complete integrated package. Heart, mind, soul, hands and feet.
Jesus, for so many people an object of worship, but not a political or social activist, focuses our attention. We do not belong to Jesus because he saves us for a life elsewhere. We belong to Jesus because he shows us how to live here and now with God as our centre, how to live with love, and how to live in community with others. You only have to read the Sermon on the Mount to understand his vision for a new social order. As Lorraine Parkinson suggests, it is a blueprint for the best possible world.
The impact of Jesus was both personal and political. He was concerned with the transformation not only of the individual, but also the social conditions that surrounded them. At a time when the kingdom of Rome was overpowering, he offered another kingdom: the kingdom of God, based on love, compassion and justice. This is the kingdom for which we speak, protest, write letters, and generally make a nuisance of ourselves. It is for those who are marginalised and excluded and who do not have a voice, that we act in the world.
As individual churches, it is time to gather and answer the call of Jesus. Dave Robinson preached at our church recently. He put forth a premise that was part horrifying and part challenging. He had asked friends who are German and church ministers a question at dinner one night, “if all the German churches had opposed Hitler, would that have made a difference….” The answer from those present was a definite yes.
Dave then asked us a question. “Did we think that it would make a difference if all the churches in Australia spoke out against injustice, the lack of compassion and the violent nature of our society? If all the churches were opposed to our inhumane treatment of refugees, at our obsession with money and defence at the expense of those least able to look after themselves; if all the churches spoke up about the effects of climate change on the poorest in the world? If all the churches that confess Jesus as Lord actually followed his teachings and how he lived?”
This is where the rubber hits the road. Perhaps we can start with us. And perhaps we can use as a guide the ideas of Michael Morewood. To be the church in the 21st century, maybe we need…
- To constantly affirm the presence of the sacred in people’s lives.
- To proclaim in speech and action that human loving and decency are intimately connected with the sacred.
- To be gracious, welcoming and generous to all.
- To take risks and be prepared to be unorthodox if compassion calls for it. For this is what Jesus did.
- To seek what is common ground, not in terms of a religious package of beliefs, but in terms of our human experience of God.
- To look outward, beyond one’s own religious communityand concerns. To look especially to the concerns of social and environmental justice and ecumenism.
- To act against evil and not tolerate behaviour that is clearly contrary to the spirit of love. Even and especially by our government.
- To trust that the spirit of God works in the body of the faithful and all need to be heard. So when we speak of action, it is not a separate reality, but at the core of our faith and our journey, individually and as a church.
The answer to Dave’s question is yes! It will make a difference!
Karen Sloan, community minister at Wembley Downs Uniting Church.