Well, we now know the result of our national marriage survey! I’m so pleased it has been decisive and not 51%. Now the legislative games will begin.
Thanks for those who have shared their thoughts, convictions and learning in these interesting times. There is no doubt, this is a significant societal shift. The challenge into the future will be to find room for respectful discussion or debate on all manner of social issues that have caught the imagination of public opinion. I don’t trust our political leaders to facilitate that. You are either on the side of the mob or you are in some way defective. Sadly, this is far from new, but it is concerning.
Forgive that moment of hysteria. I am not afraid or pessimistic about this change at all. It is to be expected in a post-Christian world. As I mentioned in last week’s sermon, the sociologist Rodney Stark has written two books arguing that Christianity rose and triumphed so quickly because it championed the value of the human person and then allowed dissent and debate as it pioneered God’s gift of a rational universe. Reason under God is a Christian idea. Hijacking then trading on that heritage without appreciating it is dangerous. These are exciting times!
So if I am Christian, what will carry the day as I move into these murky waters that have been evolving for some time but now flow freely?
For me the key word is grace.
In my reading this morning (Proverbs 27,28), the writer shares God’s reasoning and wisdom in the public space: it is people who count. Know your sheep by name and tend your flock [27:23]. I try and be hard-headed about belief and pastorally soft-hearted. We need to be hard-headed about our position in Christ and our determination to follow and obey him. At the same time, our condition in the world can be all over the place. Take great care of each other, Proverbs says.
The writer makes three principled points:
Point 1: Be confident in your faith [28:1]. Honest people with nothing to hide are bold and confident. Know from where your personal inner authority comes. Make sure your reasoning relies on more than your opinion based on nothing much. If that is all you have, admit it. It does not make you wrong but does suggest that you have some learning to do [don’t we all]. For me, as a Christian I trust the Bible read in its context more than I trust anything or anyone else. I listen to scripture the best I can and take a cautious position to contemporary thinking that flies in the face of God’s word.
Point 2: Conserve your energy. Everyone has a plan to fix chaos but it takes leadership of real understanding to straighten things out [28:2]. Don’t swim against the tide – examine the waves and currents. Jesus didn’t go everywhere, heal everybody or take up every cause. You may have opinions on contemporary issues but keep your powder dry, share with those who are open to you, stay generous and manage your hysteria. Let a lot of noise pass you by and if you choose to speak be gracious, gentle but absolutely firm that this is your conviction and you have good reasons for holding it. And above all, be a good listener.
Point 3: Value a just community. Those who seek God value justice inside and out [28:5]. People are looking for ‘better’ – better welcome, better relationships, better conversation, better behaviour, better lives – all of which add up to a better community. The opportunity for a church is to provide better character and conduct, more consistent and honest community, than people get elsewhere – convictions that embrace people but do not fall for every flight of fancy; people who seem grounded, who love generously and disagree generously; people who protect the right of others to have a say; people who declare Jesus has saved them and now they are letting him form them, sharing small personal stories of their experience of God.
Be confident, relax and think clearly, value justice for all people and work towards that end.
And grace be with you.