Last week I, and many others attended the District bi-annual retreat at Swanwick Hayes Conference Centre; challenging and uplifting time. Many quotes were used in one of the sessions which was entitled “Good News for Others”
This was one of the quotes that set me thinking about my position as an evangelical Christian within the Methodist tradition; I can remember watching a TV western movie with Mum and Dad and towards the end the hero was shot and I burst into tears. I don’t know why, perhaps because I’m an emotional person or because it was perhaps my first real point of contact with death (albeit in fiction). Mums way of dealing with it was to instruct Dad to “go and get the book”. The ‘book’ contained a beautiful picture on its rear fly pages of paradise. Literally a picture of the lion and the lamb together in a beautiful colourful and sunny garden scene, with people of a variety of colours walking around talking and smiling. The fruit trees were full of fruit and everything looked idyllic. For many years after I developed the idea that this is what Heaven would look like and therefore my role in my Christian journey was to prepare myself and others to strive for Heaven.
This quote turns that on its head, for it denies the puritanical argument that creation is essentially sinful and wrong; it overturns the idea that we can earn brownie points for Heaven; it certainly rules out universalism. All of these ideas and more can be found in a variety of evangelical thinking.
However, originally evangelical thinking was about making a difference in this world; the old quote of “so heavenly minded to be of no earthly use” is quite an accusation to be made so what difference do we make. I once knew a lady who thought it right and proper to help people who were good and upright, which implied that anyone who didn’t match her criteria were to be avoided or left on their own. Sadly, I never managed to persuade her that all people are equal and of equal need at some point in their lives, whether that be physical or spiritual. Sadly I come across many who are like that, selective in their help, and yet if N.T.Wright is correct in this quote then its about so much more.
God came out of Heaven to reach out to humankind, showing love, kindness, patience, forgiveness; despite what humankind may think it isn’t about us striving for Heaven because that implies a) that we can and b) thats where God wants us to be. NO, its about God taking the first step, the initiative, and reaching out to help us with the expectation that if we’re going to be His followers we will want to reach out to others in their need. That might indeed be spiritual in which we help them on their journey of learning about God, but its also about helping those for whom this life is difficult. The soup kitchen, the food bank, the kindly word, the smile, the help for the homeless, the compassion for the immigrant refugee are all examples of how we can bring Gods standards into the world. Jesus came to proclaim the Good News of Gods love; our job is to share it and bring hope to others