By Ven. Graham Bland
I am not a fan of ‘survival’ talk. Digging bunkers and hunkering down against future catastrophe does not appeal to me; it despairs of our finding solutions to our troubles. The Church is an agent of new life in Jesus, but we may be spending too much time in ‘end of life’ mode.
In the daily office lectionary we’ve been reading John’s Gospel. There is much reason for hope there. Good Stewardship involves the privilege of claiming and pro-claiming the Gospel as hope for the world. When we’re fully convinced of that, we will fearlessly seek the resources that will make it possible. Consider a few thoughts about John’s Gospel in the light of present realities:
“In the world you will face persecution,” Jesus says, “but take courage; I have conquered the world.” Will only his followers face persecution? No, sadly, sometimes they dish it out! There are myriad examples of persecution in Christian history, often of one Christian group by another. Unfortunately, Jesus’s followers, like all humans, do not always treat one another with Love. So, when Jesus says, “I have conquered the world,” what does he mean? Is it not this … Jesus has overcome the Love-denying power of death; and now Love and Reconciliation will be the lifeblood and breath of a new world? A new world …. now, that is something I will give myself for.
Deadly incidents of sectarian violence in Muslim mosques in New Zealand, Christian churches in Sri Lanka and Jewish synagogues in America are fired by religious extremism and hatred. Near the end of his life, Jesus prays for his followers to be one, as God is. Surely Jesus wants this loving solidarity for all humanity. Leo Tolstoy wrote: “Love is only love when it is given in the same degree to outsiders, to the adherents of other religions, and even to the enemies who hate us and do us harm.” Here is a peace-making Gospel agenda for the Church in our day … bridge-building and common cause with other faiths.
Jesus’s followers, he says, do not belong to the world, but they are sent there. In other words, you’re not owned by the priorities of the wider society, but you still live there intentionally seeking to live in the way of life that Jesus embodied. It’s not about being pious and world-denying but rather loving the world so much that you want it to be full of life and health. With hatred, denial, greed and self-serving ways being so prevalent, the world needs healing doses of love, realism, generosity and humility to help it towards a more salutary future. Here the Church may find its purpose. This is surely what we’re for.
These are just a few reflections on recent daily Gospel readings. You’ll have your own ideas, I am sure, when you read the Gospel with the same question running … What are we for? Then you will shape your vision for the Church and find your own reasons why it should go on and receive your support. When you have that clear, you can tell others about what you’re pursuing. They may come with you.
Ven. Graham Bland is a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.