Saturday, 1 June 2013

Which Way Now?

The tragic murder of Drummer, Lee Rigby, has forced us to do some soul searching on how we live together religiously, politically and ethnically and in community both locally and nationally.

Because the culprits of this heinous crime are Muslim converts, the Muslim community is once again under the microscope and finds itself on the defensive. Many commentators and detractors have used the events in Woolwich to call on British Muslims to work harder in rooting out radicalism within their communities, providing support to new converts and the young or impressionable and isolating any preachers of hate.

Many on the far right have also responded to these events. With little interest in building more wholesome or healed communities, they have used the murder in Woolwich as an excuse to stoke up hatred and to undermine good community and race relations work done within our towns and cities over many years.

Thankfully, this awful event has seen an alliance of faith leaders move quickly to provide guidance, encourage calm and generate a spirit of togetherness in the face of anger, fear and confusion. Religious figures have stepped into the breach to provide the measured leadership that will pour water and not oil onto a community’s or nation’s flames.

At such difficult times, many look to the heads of the various faith communities to provide some form of leadership. But speaking personally, I think the church is in a ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ place - where a failure to speak out again such acts of violent barbarism would be seen as us the church letting our nation and our Lord down, however on other occasions, when we do act decisively, some question our ‘authority to do these things’. This places us as the Church in a Catch 22 scenario.

In today’s Epistle reading, we see another faith leader, Paul, showing real leadership in a situation that was threatening to spiral out of control. Paul moved decisively to assert his authority upon a Christian community in which rival, maybe even meddling voices were threatening to drown out and even undermine the clear message of the Gospel. In comparison with some of his other epistles, Galatians is more curt than courteous, as Paul seeks to keep these Christians from deviating from he believes to be the truth.

We know that the Christians in Galatia were a very diverse group of people, both ethnically and culturally. While we know that Paul affirmed diversity of opinion, he appeared to value the truth of the message entrusted to him by Jesus Himself on the Damascus road over everything else.  He wanted this varied group of Christians to know that there was only ‘one gospel of Christ’.

As we can see in Galatia, the good news has the ability to bring people together, enabling there to be a unity in diversity. But what Paul is quick to point out that that diversity must not lead to division and dissension when concerned with the Gospel. Paul’s tone may sound strident but it’s perhaps out of a passionate desire that the Galatian church continues in the received truths of God, not about uniformity or conformity or power and control.

The church today is not much different to the church in Galatia. We are also a also a diverse group of ages, stages, expressions and depths of faith brought together as a unity in diversity. Whilst in no way do I see the church local or national spiralling out of control, we find ourselves in an England of many voices and stories and traditions. If we are to be a church in this parish, in this England for this England and be expected to speak from time to time with authority into and for a family, a community or maybe even a nation, we need to be clear what the Gospel in this 21st century England looks and sounds like.

In September we are offering you the opportunity to look with us as the received truths of the Gospel afresh in the Foundations course. We will be looking at and discovering or rediscovering the foundations of Christian faith that the church has been built on over 2000 years. This course is not about trying to provide uniformity in our faith, or about power and control, but it is about having confidence in God afresh and in a faith passed down through the generations, and how we live that faith in our world, our nation and in communities of dissenting voices and sometimes perceived political or ethical change.

Paul is of course addressing the church, encouraging the church, seeking to correct the church to live and live out the life of the Gospel as revealed to him by Jesus on the Damascus road. When the community or nation look to the Church today in times of flux and change, yes they look at her leaders our Archbishops, Bishops and clergy to speak into our shared life in authority and love.  Once the ink on the headlines has faded, our community and nation still look to a Church confidently living what it proclaims. To you and me together. And when unsure of which way to turn, of how to respond to times of confusion and change, we can confidently talk of and live together the way of forgiveness, reconciliation and love as directed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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I am very grateful indeed for inspiration in some of the above to reflections by Richard Reddie is a writer and researcher as posted on the Roots website