The hustings are over, the bunting is down, the mad hysteria is at an end. After the chaos of a general election, we can return to normal… For us as a church, both locally and nationally, ‘back to normal’ with a Conservative government is not necessarily a happy hopeful thing. It means 5 more years of economic strategy that ignores or tramples our neighbours, and a social system that has little or no compassion or humanity. It means 5 more years of plugging these gaps as well as we can, and offering the support and compassion- and food- that go lacking otherwise. It means 5 more years of being invited (quite condescendingly!) to take our place in David Cameron’s Big Society.
This all begs questions about how we followers of Jesus- the church- fit into society. The popular conception is that we’re one of many groups in the voluntary or not-for-profit sector, which is one of various sectors that make up civil society. And civil society is where us ‘non-political’ people do our thing and have our say, while the politicians get on with the ‘real’ business of running the country. And never the twain shall meet.
But that shouldn’t sit happily with a group of people whose first allegiance is to Jesus Christ. Jesus’ agenda doesn’t fit comfortably into one small corner of civil society, where it’s completely disconnected from politics and a vision for society. Hence Oxfam getting into deep trouble for their ‘Perfect Storm’ advert…
In a political climate which seems to lack any vision for society, we followers of Jesus should be actively and unashamedly offering Jesus’ brilliant (and challenging, and deeply political) vision for human society and relations…
Jesus’ vision is a challenge to anyone who wants to take power and govern society, because an agenda based on love is all about giving up power, and putting it into the hands of others. This is why the church was underground for its first 300 years, and this is why the church has always been less than comfortable when it is established and in alliance with the state.
David Cameron’s core campaign message, condensed into 140 characters for Twitter, was this: ‘One nation, one United Kingdom – that is how I hope to govern if I am fortunate enough to continue as Prime Minister.’ And that sounds fine at surface level- it resonates to some extent with all of us. We’re a little afraid of people who aren’t ‘us’, we’re all a little bit self-centred. But dig even slightly below the surface, and this is poisonous thinking: it’s exactly what the Bible means by ‘sin’ – we’re closed inward on ourselves, rather than being open to God and to people who are ‘other’. But God likes to surprise us, as St Peter discovered…
Love always looks outwards, to share itself and give itself away. We see that in the idea that ‘God is love’ – God the Holy Trinity looked outwards, to share an abundance of life and love with creation. God didn’t NEED us; God WANTED us!
Love always shares itself, gives itself away. We see that also in the story of God’s dealings with humanity. God starts ‘particular’ (Israel and the church), but is always looking outwards towards ‘universal’ (all of humanity). And so Jonah is sent to Nineveh rather than Jerusalem, Jesus spends time on the non-Jewish side of Galilee healing Gentiles, and St Peter discovers that God pours out the Holy Spirit even on Gentiles!
Love always shares itself, gives itself away. In solid and practical ways: God’s love is described as ‘loving-kindness’ or love-in-action. And so ‘True love is the steady, unvarying, undefeatable determination to love people as Jesus loved them, and never, no matter what they do in response, to seek anything but their highest good. It is the goodwill that cannot be quenched. This kind of love is going to have consequences.’ (William Barclay)
To offer this kind of love to our society, we first need to have and KNOW this love for ourselves. And there’s a danger here for us in the liberal church… We’re often good at giving away love and ending up tired and worn out and dried up. Because we tend to disconnect that love from its source. To paraphrase the prophets, we offer love out of our own wells, but we don’t refill those wells from God’s river of life.
So do you need to hear this morning that GOD LOVES YOU! God loves you, deeply and seriously, God is committed to you and whatever you do in response, God will seek your highest good. Nothing can separate you from God’s love- not death or life, things in the present or future, height, depth- nothing in all creation. St Augustine once said, ‘God loves each of us as if there’s only one of us.’
Love always looks outward, and love always gives itself away. And the reason we gather as a church, is to train ourselves to look outward, to become love-shaped or Jesus-shaped people. If we’re going to go out into the week and give away our love, our selves, our time, our attention, our money, we need to be trained and equipped for that- we need to be filled up from the source of love, the river of life.
The way that Jesus loved his disciples, was to give them his life. In the end, literally his life, but during his ministry, he gave away his time, his energy, his passion, his attention, wherever it was needed and asked for. A person who gives bits of their own life so that others can have more life, acts as a strong magnet to every man, woman and child who is in need. Around this person there will be laughter and an atmosphere of celebration. They are in truth the life and soul of the party; for the party is a celebration of their life, available as so many presents given away. (Virginia Cuthbert CSCl)
This morning, are you ready to receive the gift of God’s love, given in Jesus? Are you ready to let God’s love FILL your life to overflowing… And then are you ready to go and give it away as gifts of time, energy, attention, money and love? Even if you’re not excited about a Conservative United Kingdom, are you excited about being part of a different kingdom- God’s kingdom of love joy and justice that drums to a different beat and won’t be contained in one small corner of civil society. A kingdom that starts small like a mustard seed but grows to take over the whole world.
As Pentecost comes, are you excited about the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord being upon us, so we can live by a manifesto that is ALL ABOUT the poor, the weak, the orphan, the widow, the refugee, all about about binding up the broken hearted and freeing people who are held captive by debts and addictions and broken ways of life.
Are you excited about feeling the pleasure and joy of God’s love, even as you share that love and give it away… St Ignatius said, once you know God’s love, you can go forth and set the world on fire!