The recent study day with Barbara Glasson and Clive Marsh, Our President and Vice President, wasn’t to be an opportunity to sit back, relax and absorb morsels of their superior knowledge and wisdom from behind closed eyelids. Instead we were encouraged to form factions and to energetically disagree with one another, grappling with how scripture can appear to disagree with itself – Paul, for example, seeming to disagree with his own writing. It was a way of illustrating that biblical teaching is seldom simple and has to be understood within a particular context. So we need to be discerning about what it means to live biblically and what conclusions we draw from Scripture about relationships with one another and God’s Creation.
One exercise we were asked to engage with was to imagine that some of us were aliens from the planet Zog – blessed with a command of the English language but knowing nothing about church or church jargon – and arriving at a meeting of a Church Council. The questions of the Zoggians asked were “What are you doing and why?” and “Does this meeting help?” I’d have been interested to eavesdrop on the group that tried to explain to the aliens how and why we had nailed our “God” to a cross!
The point is, of course, that the world’s understanding of church matters and jargon is little more than that of the Zoggians, and our church meetings would seem just as bizarre to neighbours who came. I’ve certainly sat in Church Councils where I was extremely pleased that no-one from outside the church was present – we would all have been filled with shame!
We have a huge challenge in communicating our faith to the world in which we live, and that challenge begins with being sure of what we want to communicate.
As Lent approaches we might like to consider how we respond to someone who asks “Why do you go to church?” Could we, rather than resorting to formulaic words and expecting them to make sense, respond from our hearts, finding a story and language of love, kindness, listening, concern, generosity, forgiveness, joy, peace and hope through our belonging to Christ? Can our story be seen in our being and our doing, and recognised as supremely relevant to everyone’s situation.
Perhaps the aliens from Zog could go back to their spaceship saying that some of those earthlings have really discovered something, and wondering why everyone on earth isn’t a part of it.
Can we use this time of Lent to check out what is really at the heart of our faith story and how our lives communicate it?
It’s unusual, to say the least, to find ourselves preparing for Christmas in the middle of a General Election Campaign - fairy lights and political banners competing for our attention. Depending on our perspective, we might admit to a little annoyance, either that the Election is intruding on our preparations, or vice-versa!
Of course there were many intrusions into the birth of the Son of God - intrusions often concealed by the sanitised images on our Christmas cards. There was the shame of being conceived out of wedlock; the disruption and journeying brought about by the Census; the political turmoil of the Roman Occupation and the paranoid King Herod; the lack of a suitable resting-place for the birth. But still he came.
There was no election as such, but the people did get the opportunity to have their say on his potential premiership when Pilate asked: “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” “Not him!” they replied. “Give us Barabbas.” They put him to death. But still he came.
And the rejection goes on. We endeavour to crowd out the Advent season with shopping, decorating, preparing and partying. Message upon message tells us of what we need for the perfect Christmas with no mention of him. But still he comes.
He comes to us individually, he comes to us as a community and as a church, not with the hollow promises of political party leaders, but as light in darkness, as living bread for the hungry and living water for those who thirst, as life-giver to those who will take up their cross and follow. He comes not asking for an X in a box that he might have power over us, but with arms outstretched to welcome us home.
Yes, the Election is something of an intrusion - but it serves to remind us that he comes today to be alongside us as we are, in all our confusion and uncertainty. That the choices we make for parliament are in no way disconnected from the choice we make for him.
And he will not be dismayed, for when the campaigning is over, even when the next government has fallen, still he comes. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it.
May you find him anew this Christmas