Grace Embodied

The final of the grace strategies of the Baptist Union is Grace Embodied.

The description they provide is:

Because it is by grace that we have been called into life together in Christ we shall seek to embody the grace of God in our communities of faith, drawing on our Baptist heritage of attentiveness together to Christ as the Head of His Body and mutuality of love and service as members of that Body.  

Let us remind ourselves of the Good News that Jesus preached that got him into so much trouble that the hearers in the synagogue wanted to throw him off the cliff. Quoting from Isaiah…

He preached Good news to the poor, he preached to those who are economically disinherited;

 

He preached release to the captives, he preached to the socially and politically disinherited;

 

He opened the eyes of the blind, he healed the physically disinherited;

 

He strengthened with forgiveness those that are bruised, he addressed the morally and spiritually disinherited;

 

He proclaimed the Lord’s year of jubilee, a new world beginning on the basis of a closer approximation to equality of opportunity for all

 

These 5 things together make the kingdom of God now on earth because these 5 things touch the total person and their total environment. Whare Tapa Wha – the whole of their lives.

 

Te taha hinengaro -psychological health, with a focus on emotions.

Te taha wairua - spiritual awareness.

Te taha tinana - physical health and growth and development

Te taha whanau – family, the need to belong

 

Stanley Jones sees that “If the church would embody these 5 Good News items, then this question of the relevancy of the church would never be raised, for it would become relevancy itself.”[1]

 

That question of relevance is one which is constantly expressed about the church.  In a post Christian world, how relevant is the church anymore?  At one time, in village life, the church stood at the centre of the village and village life, the steeple was the high place in the whole area. A parish included all people living in an area, a cradle roll included all babies born in an area. All children were christened. All marriages took place in a church.

 

But no longer. The high places in the cities are the banks and financial institutions and those who idolise money, like the Sky tower. Churches are relegated to industrial areas (because of noise) or the outskirts of the city.  The church is seen as only relevant for those seeking God. All of the former functions of the church can be sought elsewhere.

 

And that relevance (or lack of it) is borne out by the census. According to the 2013 census, although just under 50% of people claimed to be Christian only 15% regularly attended church. Only 15% of people think the church is relevant to their lives.

 

In light of those horrific stats, we need to ask ourselves how relevant to the lives of the people who live in our area is the church? Do we align ourselves with our community or are we people apart?

 

One of our sayings here at Eastside is that “We are not the church that just meets in Glengarry, we are not the church to Glengarry people, we are not the church for Glengarry people, we are the church living with the Glengarry people.”

 

We cannot stand outside the world they live in and speak into it. If we did that, we would have no credibility.

 

The good news of the Trinity would be more convincing to the society around us today if Christian communities were stronger in their sense of belonging to one another, in their care for each other, and in the vitality of their witness made possible by deeper discernment of who they are and how they might serve the world.[2]

 

In a famous Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown and Linus walk up to a freezing cold Snoopy in the snow outside his dog box and say “be of good cheer” and walk off, leaving Snoopy perplexed and still as cold as ever.  Their platitudes were irrelevant to a cold Snoopy.

 

When we come with words of advice, but no action, then we are like Charlie Brown and Linus.

 

Philip Sheldrake in his book on spirituality says: The Christian vision of Holiness may involve an identification, in my weakness, with the needs of the world in its sickness. The poor of the earth, if they are to hear the gospel of human spiritual liberation, must do so from those who understand their own poverty. [3]

 

People do not care what you know, until they know that you care.  And we show we care by being involved, not by standing on the side-lines, by getting our hands dirty rather than preaching through a megaphone from afar.

 

We do not make the Kingdom relevant by standing above people in judgement, patronising the people as lesser beings, lording it over them with a holier than thou attitude, but by being arm in arm with them where they are at.

 

We make the kingdom relevant when we walk with the people in our area, when we align ourselves with the people in this area, when we feel their pain and we celebrate their triumphs.

 

I love this quote from Stephanie Dowrick: Praying for a kinder world is not enough. We must become kindness. We must live it. And when we fail to live it, we must have the courage and grace start again.[4]

 

In other words, we need to be like Christ to this area.  Christ did not come on a white charger telling the people what to do. Instead he walked the dusty roads with them, ate with them, lived in community with them, and loved them even when they did not get what he was saying. By his actions, he gained the right to speak into their lives.

 

We need to be like Jesus. Like him, we need to be out in our communities, connecting with people with acts of amazing love… while connecting them to a God of amazing grace.[5]

 

Our responsibility is to show love and grace the same way Jesus dealt with the Samaritan woman, the lepers, or the other outcasts of his day.[6]       

 

Who are the Samaritan women in our worldview, who are the lepers, who are the outcasts?  For each of us, that may engender different responses, all genuine and all correct.  What are we going to do about being as Christ to them?

 

It means living the Good News, living with the economically disinherited, the socially and politically disinherited, the physically disinherited, the morally and spiritually disinherited and demonstrating a new world with a basis of a closer approximation to equality of opportunity for all.

 

“Only when we stand with those who suffer pain, humiliation, starvation, and poverty, and look at the world through their experience will we truly know the God who came into the world to share human pain.”[7]

 

Jesus lived with the pain of being a refugee, he lived with the pain of being powerless in a country occupied by a foreign army, he lived the pain of being a despised Galilean in Israel, he lived with the situation of being itinerant with no place to call his home. He lived with the pain of persecution and threats against his life and ultimately paying the ultimate price for his love of the people.

 

When we walk with people in their pain, we also enhance our own understanding of Christ.

 

Think about this also:  People make a judgement of the church before we ever open our mouths. They do it by looking and saying “are there people like me here?”  Are there people like me in positions of leadership? Because that is a way for people to determine whether our actions match our words and whether this is a place of safety or yet another place of pain and hurt.

 

The writer Tommy Tenney reminds us that “The human composition of the church should closely mirror the composition of the communities it serves. At the same time, it should model the grace and mercy of God toward our differences.[8]

 

A church full of white faces says what to people of other ethnicities?

 

A church devoid of people with physical disability says what to a person in a wheelchair?

 

A church without children says what to a family?

 

A church leadership and ministry leaders that are all male says what to females?

 

A church carpark filled with late model new vehicles says what the person with an old bomb, or no wheels at all?

 

And so it goes on.  Perceptions can enhance or diminish our witness to the community.

 

What are we at Eastside saying to the community in which we have been placed by God?

 

I could cite you the numbers from the 2013 census about the makeup of Waverley/Glengarry and Hawthorndale catchments which is where we are placed, and compare that to the makeup of the church, but that would not give the whole picture.  Figures are impersonal and disconnected from the real lives of the people eking out life’s grind.  Instead, walk the streets and see who lives here and ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. In what ways do you think our church embodies the Grace of God?

2. How would the wider community observe this embodiment?

3. How does the Gospel inspire you to action within your community?

Those are the questions we need to be asking for the sake of the kingdom.

Those are the questions we need to be asking ourselves for the sake of relevance.

Those are the questions we need to asking in order that evangelism can take place.

“Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches”[9]

 

 



[1] The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person (E Stanley Jones) 120,122

[2] Marva Dawn Joy in Divine Wisdom: practices of discernment from other cultures and Christian traditions 120

[3] Philip Sheldrake Images of holiness: exploration in contemporary spirituality 30

[4] Stephanie Dowrick Seeking the Sacred 38

[5] Rusaw & Swanson The Externally Focused Church 7

[6] Michael  Milco Ethical Dilemmas in Church Leadership 66

 

[7] David G Benner, Care of Souls

[8] Tommy Tenney God’s Dream Team 106

[9] Alice Roosevelt Longworth  https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/scratch.html