Article for the July edition of Crosslincs
I often feel that it’s not what you say that matters, but how people hear you. It is something which I see played out again and again in the media as politicians, religious people, and experts comment on vital matters of our age. Some have the knack of exciting and interesting us, while others just can’t do it and leave us none the wiser – swamped in a flood of words. Yet the views, understanding and votes of many are based on such brief encounters.
As a church we put an enormous amount of time and effort into deciding what we want to say, but I wonder how often we stop and consider how we are heard? I suspect that many hear us as being serious people in a state of anxiety about the world and constantly preoccupied with internal problems which are of no interest or consequence for those who are outside the conversation. There is of course some truth in what they hear. We are serious about being the people of God; the world is far from being ‘right’ and we have theological and financial issues which need addressing – yet is that all we have to say? Is that all that people need to hear?
It is no easier when we turn to the words of Scripture – we hear these precious words in so many different ways and respond to what we hear. A good example of this is Luke 15. It is a wonderful chapter containing three of Jesus’ parables about being lost – the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. We can hear these familiar stories of something precious first being lost and then being found, as stories of God’s response to those who have sinned. We can also hear these stories as an encouragement to evangelise those who have got life wrong and to assure them that they are precious to God. Yet is that all that we need to hear from these familiar stories of being lost and being found?
I often use the stories in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis as something of a key to understanding what’s happening in the rest of the Bible. In Genesis Chapter 3 we have a story of people becoming lost. Adam and Eve choose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and become lost to the blessings of paradise. Because of their choice, God has to search for them and calls out “Where are you?”
The story of God then seems to reveal a divine restlessness to recover us from our ‘lostness’. That becomes God’s passion and purpose – to restore us to the real blessings which come with the gift of life. So Jesus’ three parables are about so much more than finding something precious that was lost. They are about hearing the reaction of the one who has been searching and has found what they were looking for – “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep” verse 6, and again “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin” verse 9, and then more explicitly in verse 32 “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.
These familiar stories enable us to hear something of the party that is going on in heaven when God recovers what is lost. They let us hear God in party mode, celebrating with us whenever we have grasped the gift of free will and used it to make choices that are infused with the quality of love and thus moving us closer and closer to those blessings of life which God intends. When we are found, recovered by the God who is restless to find us – then it’s time to party.
I wonder how often we radiate that sense of celebration in what we say and do as God’s people. When we follow Paul’s calling to the Colossians to”seek the things which are above”, are we looking for a party, and does it sound as if we are having a good time? If there is a party going on in heaven, then that’s what needs to resonate from the life of our church. If we are caught up with a God who rejoices, then are we living that out in our worship, witness and ministry? Are we inviting the community in which we are set to a party? We may think we’ve told them, but what have they heard?