Biblical reflection on Christians on the Left

Christians on the Left: Parliamentary Launch Reflection

Tuesday 5th November 2013

 

COTL_Cross.pngActs 11:19-26
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and 

Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

 


 

On the occasion of this launch event, marking a new chapter in our history with the new name of our association, I want to suggest why the name change both indicates and initiates the formation of a broader partnership, an expanded horizon for our efforts for the transformation of our society. I want to propose that this passage in Acts is indeed the most significant scripture text for all of us here who call ourselves Christians, as it has to do with a name-change, a change of direction, and the expanded sphere of God’s missionary activity. 

I spent last week in Israel, and visited sites purporting to have been the location of key events in Jesus’ life. Some more plausible than others! The Church of the Holy Sepulchre ironically feels like a deathly tomb from which one would wish to escape by resurrection. However, the garden tomb seemed a plausible location for that central event by which the world, human history, and my life have been changed for good – namely the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

How did I come to hear of this life and cosmos changing news? Only because of the boldness of ‘certain men from Cyprus and Cyrene’ who ‘began to speak to Greeks also’. 

The good news of Jesus was good news only for Jews until this point. Followers of ‘the way’ were a small sect of 1st century bible.jpgJudaism until an act of sheer lunacy and peculiarity led to non-Jews beginning to hear how the world was changed. News reached Jerusalem, Barnabas went, Saul was sent for, and in Antioch in Syria (a country held in all our prayers just now) the disciples were first called Christians. 

This early name change reflected the missionary heart of God, and was also a catalyst for the apostle to the Gentiles, St Paul, to take this good news to a wider group than would otherwise have heard. 

The life of a Christian is always eccentric – this may be more self-evident in some than others you may think! But what I mean is this: that we are always having our focus turned away from ourselves and towards others. We always look to bring the news of God’s saving work and love to those who do not yet know its benefit. 

We have a message of hope and love; we take our stand against injustice and despair. We are compelled by God’s Spirit to be his ‘ambassadors’ in the ministry of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us. And we seek a wider partnership in this work – a greater koinonia, an expanded communion of those who will also bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a world in need of rescue. 

5 years ago, Rowan Williams said this in his Lent lectures at Westminster Abbey across the road:

‘the Christian Church is itself a political community: it's about living together in justice… The politeia, the citizenship of the Church is to do – like other kinds of citizenship – with how people take responsibility for the management of power, how they cooperate, how they become responsible to each other. And the Christian community talks about itself as a polity, a kind of civic life which is in some way transparent to God… As has very often been pointed out, the very word for Church in Greek, ekklesia, meant 'a citizen's assembly' in the ancient world. And so in the earliest Christian period, to become an adopted child of God in Jesus Christ, was simultaneously to become a political being, in a new way: to become a citizen of a larger society. To receive the grace of God, God's mercy transfiguring and enlarging your life, was, at one and the same time, to take on responsibility within the City of God, to take on responsibility for common life.’ 

Christians on the Left are those who hear and receive this new political identity and are willing to respond to its implications. 

Christians on the Left are those who recognize the injustice in our society and refuse to ignore it. 

Christians on the Left pray for the Kingdom of God, that in the words of FD Maurice, it may be a ‘present reality which is set to renew the face of the earth.’ 

William Temple, the Archbishop who is remembered by Anglicans around the world tomorrow, said of the Kingdom of God that:

‘it is our eternal goal [and] we have to do all we can to make of history a movement in that direction’. (Christianity &Social Order, p63) 

Christians on the Left, with William Temple, know that the dignity of humankind is that we are children of God. We know that, in his words:

‘[our] true value is not what [we are] worth in [ourselves] or to our earthly state, but what we are worth to God.’ 

And so, ‘the State must not treat people as having value only so far as they serve its ends… [But that] the State exists for its citizens not the citizens for the State.’ 

Christians on the Left know that too often, the State ignores the cries of its citizens, piling burden upon burden upon them. 

Christians on the Left know that in our day, there are people going hungry; people without the dignity of work; people discarded to a scrapheap through disability; people left behind in the Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ economic rat-race; people whose worth is measured only in terms of educational attainment, employability and economic activity. 

Christians on the Left believe in a God who, like the Good Samaritan, crossed the road in Jesus Christ to rescue those who were the victims of thieves and robbers. And we commit ourselves to do the same. 

As we carry forward the vision and values of Christian Socialism, we pray that this new name for our organization will ‘speak to Greeks also’, that it will indicate a change of emphasis as we look beyond our familiar associations, that it will initiate a renewed effort in building a greater partnership for the work to which God has called us: that we too cross the road to rescue our neighbour. 

And so in the spirit of partnership, we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying: 

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come, your will be done

On earth as it in heaven;

Give us today our daily bread,

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive

those who sin against us;

Lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil

For the kingdom, the power

And the glory are yours

Now and forever,

Amen.

 

 

Revd Graham Hunter

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commented 2014-10-18 22:14:17 +0100 · Flag
Wonderful post… but as the name change was about removing the word ‘socialist’ I would like to suggest a different scriptural quote from Acts of the Apostles……Acts 2:5. Now don’t be losing your way COTL, let alone your soul.