Postscript: The Kingdom has come near
A reflection for Sunday, 14 June 2020.
The many weeks that follow Trinity Sunday give us an opportunity to reflect on how we should live out our faith together in the world, building community in ways that reflect the nature of God – the God who is relationship. In this way our understanding of the Trinity is earthed in the messy, ordinary reality of our lives, the practical caring for our neighbour and our reaching out to those beyond our church walls. This sounds simple but perhaps, following the high of Trinity Sunday, there is a wisdom in the length of time that we have for exploring these themes!
Reflecting the love of God demands everything from us and takes us to places that we may not wish to go. When Jesus sees the people, he is deeply moved by the unspoken need that he sees in front of him. For us there is perhaps a message about paying attention, about being truly alert to the moment – to its opportunities and its challenges. We are not called to be heroes, ready with solutions, but faithful disciples, ready with prayerful attention.
The call of God asks us not to rush ahead to seek out our own opportunities for healing and ministering to others but instead to follow where we are being led so that we can take notice of and then respond to the need that presents itself to us, in the people and in the situations where, as Matthew’s Gospel tells us, the Kingdom has come near. As we do this, we may find ourselves in some uncomfortable places, with surprising people and in challenging situations. It is part of the outworking of another new normal – the Kingdom of God right where we are.
The past few months have changed some of the ways in which we do church. Lockdown has required us to use online platforms of one sort or another for our worship, prayer, meetings and Bible study groups. However, these weeks are lost if they do not challenge us to completely reimagine what it means to be church in the new reality we are in. What does it mean to be a Christ-like presence and a Trinitarian community online?
Now the beginning of the weeks of slow emergence challenge us again: what is the new future that we wish to see, both in the church and beyond its walls? Matthew’s Gospel has, at its heart, a vision of the gospel for all peoples. Many hours of meetings and prayer are spent in our churches working out how to draw people in, but over the past few weeks we have had to become a church without walls, in response to the call in front of us. How can we maintain our online presence into the future and what does this mean for our rooted and relational faith, for our giving and our buildings?
In many ways we are in a kairos moment in the church (that is, a moment when God’s call or challenge is acutely felt). How do we find a new future? How do we face the challenges of our financial worries – individual and corporate? Kairos moments are acutely disturbing, often shattering our old certainties and requiring of us new reserves of courage, resourcefulness and hope.
As a nation and across the globe, we are being challenged and confronted by the pain of racial injustice. It too is a kairos moment. We are challenged by our own nation’s history and the wealth that has come from the oppression of others. As our lockdown eases, we face big questions about how we want to live – whether we go back to the old normal or whether we work to create a new normal – a society that is more just, more inclusive, more equitable in its distribution of wealth and opportunity. We are in so many ways in a kairos moment. What will our response be?
Barack Obama recently gave a speech to a class of graduating high school students. Recognising the ‘head-spinning’ nature of life recently he emphasised the importance of:
"…finding hope in ourselves, and creating it in others. Especially in a time like this. You don’t always need hope when everything’s going fine. It’s when things seem darkest — that’s when you need it the most. Class of 2020, what these past few weeks have shown us is that the challenges we face go well beyond a virus, and that the old normal wasn’t good enough – it wasn’t working."
People of God in 2020, what will your response be?
Hope – that is perhaps what we need most of all. There is a quotation of unknown origin that is sometimes attributed to St Augustine: ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.’ This is the kind of hope into which we are so often called and that the life and ministry of Jesus demonstrated for us. Can we find and nurture this kind of hope in ourselves and in our communities? It is an amazing and yet terrifying thing to realise that the Kingdom has come near - and we are asked to choose.
Questions for discussion or reflection
- As we begin to reflect on future shapes of church, what do we need to hold on to and what do we need to let go of?
- Are we moved enough to respond to the needs of the moment?
- Are we angry enough about what is wrong in our world that so much injustice surrounds us?
- Do we have courage enough to follow the call of God so that we can bring the kingdom of justice and peace nearer to our friends and families, our neighbourhoods and our world?
Lord of all,
you call us to follow you into an unknown future.
The way ahead is puzzling.
We cannot see the direction we should take
for our own lives for our churches and for our world.
Lord of all,
when the chaos begins to subside,
teach us to trust in your still small voice.
Teach us to listen for the whisper that urges us to change;
to pay attention to your guidance and your love for us.
Teach us to look and to see where you are already at work.
Teach us not to look for opportunities to be heroes
but spaces where we are asked to be faithful
in meeting the need in front of us.
Lord of all,
may we believe in your promise
that you will use what we have and what we are,
and like bread and wine to feed the hungry and the lost,
you will make what is ordinary
extraordinary by your presence.
You might like also to read the words of the hymn/song ‘The Love of God comes close’ (by John Bell, Iona). Here is the first verse:
The love of God comes close
where stands an open door,
to let the stranger in,
to mingle rich and poor.
The love of God is here to stay
embracing those who walk the Way;
the love of God is here to stay.
Diane Craven is a freelance Education and Spirituality Consultant and a Reader in the Church of England.
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