Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Sunday Service

I went to a really good church service on Sunday night. It was looking at stories from Kurdistan. The theme of the service was about Honour and Shame. I began to appreciate more and more those who work in the region bringing a sense of God's love and forgiveness.

The people leading the service spoke about the plight of many people, particularly women in the Middle East. We heard of horrible acts of violence on young girls because they had fallen in love with the wrong person outside the tribe. They were murdered, mutilated and shunned by their fathers and their families. Within the Middle East the community is given more consideration than the individual; a person's choice doesn't just affect them but it affects the wider family, the next-door neighbours and those in the wider community.

Everyone shared in disbelief at a worldview that mistreats women, that regards women with less worth and value than men. A worldview that sees a father kill their child. It is difficult to understand an approach and worldview like this from a Western perspective. Especially in a culture that emphasises the individual and the concept of individual rights.

But no one mentioned the difficult stories from scripture...
- Abraham willing to sacrafice his son because of his beliefs
- talk of blessings and curses, of honour and shame within the Bible
- within evangelical circles the central theme that God the Father sent his son to a bloody death on the cross for the common good.
- communities of believers who practiced shunning people who put a foot wrong
- numerous bible passages that command women to submit themselves to their husbands to avoid causing shame and dishonour to their partners

My wind wandered to the parable of the prodigal son, particularly the response of the father. We have a picture of God who doesn't subscribe to the honour and shame approach of the dominant culture. We have a picture of God who doesn't subscribe to an approach of reward and punishment. Love, forgiveness and grace are the ways of this God.

I'm beginning to see the influence of wider culture on what we read in the pages of the Bible and in our own interpretations as we approach scripture.

making sense of their world...making sense of ours

I've been flicking through the pages of James, 1,2,3 John, 1 and 2 Peter over the past day or two. It is striking how difficult things had become for the believers. People had begun to lose faith in the midst of the persecution they were facing for their beliefs. Others began to lose hope in the return of Jesus as the years passed by. There were individuals who had set themselves up as new leaders who possessed spiritual insight and who claimed special favour from God.

It must have been difficult making sense of the world and of God, especially for believers with a Jewish background who had been raised on stories of God hearing the cries of his people. Yet as the years passed by it would seem that God didn't appear to be acting. How would one make sense of their God? It is easy to see why some would give up hope and lose faith. And in the gap, others emerge playing on the fears of the people offering certaintly. quick fixes and easy answers.

The authors of the letters are keen to provide practical advice and help to encourage believers to continue in their faith. They believed God to be in ultimate control of everything and if they were to endure persecution there must be a cosmic reason why things were the way they were. God was working out his purposes through the difficulties they were facing.

However as past stories of God's intervention lose their power - maybe even seeming irrelevant to the people at the time, the biblical writers turn towards stories of the future. A future of reward for those who endure persecution and punishment for those who cause the difficulties. God sees the plight of the believers. He hears their cries and he will act! (similar to the language of blessing and curses found in deuteronomy - but rather than being immediate it would be delayed until the end of time).

How little things change with time. As the western church makes sense of dwindling numbers and the loss of its influence - we are left asking the same questions. Does God really exist? Does God not see the world and the suffereing of those who live for the gospel? When will God move?

Theres a song called Let Glasgow Flourish. It speaks of a Glasgow falling a part - a city given over to sin and evil. The former places of salvation have even become the places of "entertainment" in these last days. Things have become so bad that the tree no longer grows, the bird no longer flies, the fish no longer swims and the bell no longer rings. Satan is in charge of Glasgow.

The song's offers a way out of the situation we find ourselves in. We just have to return to the motto the city was built upon. "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of his word and the praising of his name" Do we look for the easy answers and certainty? If we just do X or Y God will move. Pray more intensely - read our Bibles more avidly - avoid earthly pleasures - sing louder and longer - if we just do more then that will fix things. God will be pleased with our efforts and striving. He will bless us.

Do we attempt to grab God's favour? Or do we live in the tension with our questions and uncertainties, trusting in a God bigger than our understanding? Do we take another look at our world, our city and our communities and see afresh the unexpected places where God is moving and working?