The Fourth Sunday of Easter A 2014 Bishop Tom Wright tells the story of a student of his who spent the long vacation in Central Africa. After his return the Head of College asked him what he thought he might do when he finished his degree. He replied that he would like to work in a Third world country. The Head said: wouldn’t you be better to study Economics and Politics, the student quickly responded – no Theology is far more relevant! The comment resonated with me at a number of levels:
With current debates on education – curricula, career based, market oriented etc. Are we as a society short changing ourselves with the loss that broad general education that teaches a person how to think, critically asses and make sound judgements? As members of the Christian community ought we to devote more time to the study of theology as a way of helping us to develop a “godly” world view. How can we better use the learning and resources we have to better assist the desperately poor and disadvantaged in our own community and in the third world?
In our first reading we learn of the life of the First Christian community; and in many ways this reading is greatly maligned as either “pie in the sky” or only relevant to a bygone era; but let’s look at it a little more closely and discover its relevance for us today, as well as for the Christian community in any age. So we read: “42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” “All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” The life of this first Christian community has been written off as either unrealistic, or an early form of communism, and so is disregarded. To do that is too lose sight of the valuable lessons it has for us today. At the heart of their understanding of living as Christians was the call to live as a “family”, and they had a sense of an end of the old world order of debt, injustice and greed which had come to end on Calvary and they were modelling the new world order of forgiveness: they were seeking to live in the resurrection light. AS we reflect on the notion of forgiveness, we might e.g. consider the burden of third world debt; Politicians and Economists have not sorted it out. But the Gospel with its message of Jubilee just might. The Biblical concept of Jubilee is embedded in the Scriptures where in both Judaism and Christianity, this concept is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon. In the Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is to occur every fiftieth year, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. The Jubilee was there to allow a regular restoration of balance, to give everyone an equal opportunity, to give everyone a fresh start and to give the nation (of Israel) a real go at being truly “God’s People” Is such a concept practical? The United Nations with its Millennium Goals has offered the world a real go at such a concept.
And the Anglican Communion with its “Five Marks of Mission” also points us into a way of living in the light of the resurrection. Mission - The Five Marks of Mission The Mission of the Church is the mission of Christ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom To teach, baptise and nurture new believers To respond to human need by loving service To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth Through Jesus God wants us to have abundant life. Jesus the Good Shepherd wants to lead us in the right direction – “ He will lead me…….” He will feed us – “He will prepare a table before me…………” we will be kept secure -“ I will fear no evil for you are with me…” and that care is eternal – “ and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” In John 10 Jesus is contrasted with other “wanna be’s” false messiahs who Jesus describes as thieves and brigands. And we see plenty of them today – dictators, fundamentalist terrorists and so on. Jesus model of leadership in his day was very different to what was on offer, It is also very different to what we see today - but it is still relevant. His leadership was a self-giving love that was free of all malice, guile, greed, insincerity and ambition: but strove only to serve for the common good of all. An impossible dream? It is the dream we should strive to live: After all: “ you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light”. Well the first Christians did it “and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” The challenge for us is to live out the Gospel life and make a difference: Dare we?