Towards the end of April I will be acting as chaplain to the Thames North and Eastern Synods Ministers’ Spring School. Its theme is “Strangers in a strange land” with the subtitle of “Who are we?” I don’t know how the various speakers are going to address the theme but it seems to recognise that we, as Christians, are not – and perhaps should not be – at ease in our current culture.
Down the centuries Christians have resisted the culture in which they have found themselves in ways they believed to be faithful to the Gospel: the early Quakers refused to use titles such as ‘Sir’ or ‘my Lord’ or even ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ because we are all equal in the sight of God: an uncle of mine would not use a bank for money because the Bible forbade usury (earning interest): many Christians would not take a Sunday paper or use a shop on Sunday in order to honour the Sabbath: an Ethiopian volunteer at PENHA fasts regularly as a spiritual discipline. What in our culture should we, as Christians, be resisting?
Our culture is sometimes criticised as a ‘blame culture’: we must find someone to blame for whatever is wrong. Who do we blame for the present economic crisis – the bankers, the government, people on benefits, the NHS, the very rich etc., etc.?
Many years ago I went to see a series of Greek tragedies (dating from centuries before Christ). At the side of the stage stood the chorus – a small group which commented on the action. They had very few words to say, but as each tragic event unfolded, they would say : “Who is to blame? Who is to blame?” So a blame culture is nothing new.
However, we Christians have some very different words sounding in our heads:
All we like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John. 1: 8)
And Jesus’ words to the crowd gathered round to gloat over the woman caught in adultery: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
I don’t think the Bible gives us easy answers to how we should live faithfully in our culture or any other culture. In trying to prepare for the Spring School daily prayers I have turned to the Easter chapters of John’s Gospel – chapters 20 and 21 – in order to stand on firm ground. There the risen Jesus comes, time and again in surprising ways, to meet his frightened, unfaithful disciples (just like us). He forgives all the past, he directs their fishing, he feeds them by the lakeside, he gives them confidence to step out into an uncertain future, telling others about God’s love and power.
So, as we try to approach the big issues of our day or find our bearings in the events and encounters of our daily lives, the only place to stand is on that same firm ground.