I am not sure what the most memorable start to a church service may be for you, but for me it is easy to pinpoint. I was preaching to a congregation of Africans. The prayer right at the start by one of the members began like this: “Lord, we thank you that we are here and we are not dead.” For me it was an eye opener to the situations that many of these dear people had come from, situations in which many of their loved ones were still living, but it was also a spur to live with gratefulness and to be more aware of the unknown difficulties and memories that ordinary people carry. From that day it bothered me less if some people looked as though they were showing no interest in my preaching. It no longer offended me or irritated me. I just realised from that point on in fresh depth that a lot of people are living with and carrying a difficult story . My worry about whether they appreciate my preaching, is a loveless worry. Only this morning I heard two ladies standing talking to one another. As I passed them , one was saying to the other, “I mean he is sleeping in shop doorways now…” A son, a brother? I don’t know, but the strain on her face was obvious. She looked so pale and tired. It was so, so sad to see that strain and quite tragic that anyone in the UK should be sleeping in a doorway.
That prayer from that African Congregation came back to me today as I caught up with the dreadful news from France. Remember today in your prayers those who died and those who grieve; remember those who were injured and those who are traumatised by the events, traumatised even to find themselves still alive. The Prime Minister of France made a chilling remark when he spoke this morning: “France must get used to living with terrorism.” Remember too that as well as in France, there have been incidents in other countries resulting in much death, suffering and grief. Be grateful if you have the breath of life in you. Be grateful if the community you live in is one of relative peace and safety. The veneer of peace is thin in some places. Violence and things that endanger life and survival threaten to break through in many countries where people read these blogs from the USA to South Sudan.
We sometimes say almost as a cliche that education is the answer to everything. Well, education is good, but why do we still invest it with god like powers when the last century showed that the most cultured and educated of nations caused the suffering of two world wars and almost annihilated the Jews in Europe? Many terrorists are university educated. Clever educated people make as much a mess of their lives and muck up the lives of those around them as much as anyone else. The new trust we have is in “dialogue around the table” and political solutions which of course are better than war but in a world so full of destructive ideologies that are beyond the influence of reason, the answer will not be in dialogue or sitting round a table. “Democracy is the answer” … but look at the problems facing the USA , or the obvious fact after our own referendum in the UK re Europe that we don’t actually like democracy that much when it goes against what we think is self evidently right and obvious and should be to any decent thinking person. Education and political dialogue are like pea shooters against the irrationality of evil (which has its source not in reason but in lies and The Father of Lies) and the reality of human sinfulness. We need help. We cannot save ourselves.
What will it take for the nations to hear the Word of the Lord, “Look to me all ye ends of the earth and be saved,” ? How long will it be until the nations are so aware of their impotence in the face of evil and sinfulness that we bow our knees, lift our eyes to heaven and cry out “Help”?
One more thing; on a day when we are reminded of the sufferings of the world, as I sifted through the usual batch of email and Facebook correspondence about church life and conferences and courses on this and that, I could not help but think that the concerns of the evangelical/charismatic church are too small and narrow as well almost embarrassingly selfish and irrelevant to the world such as it is. It sort of reminded me of the fact that when Lenin and his friends were making their plans for revolution, church leaders were met that very night locked in impassioned debate about clerical dress and hairstyles. Oh of course we think that what we champion is much more a biblical imperative and priority that we need to recover, much more important than these matters. Is it? At the risk of offending you, it may be a complete red herring, albeit a popular red-herring in terms of what is really important for the church and for the world. Could you at least be open to considering that as a possibility? God help us not fiddle or jump on bandwagons or soap boxes while the world burns.
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