The ELCE pastors met this week for their ‘Conference’ – though it is more like in-service, administration, and fellowship (there’s usually a pub meal in there some-where!). The meeting is called the Barnes Conference – I’ve no idea who named it – but the Barnes is Robert Barnes, a Lutheran martyred in 1540 in Smithfield in London. I have said on numerous occasions that such a title for a pastors’ get-together reminds us – or should remind us – of what a confession about Christ could entail. Having just concluded our Bible Study on Acts one thing that struck us last Wednesday was the response of the world to the first Chris-tians’ message. The message of Jesus was – and wasn’t! – greeted with open arms!
It’s the same today. The Church is ever ready to answer if asked about Jesus; just as it variously seeks to help those in front of them in works of charity and mercy (and that’s more complex in determining what actually is helpful and what produces dependency and trying not to avoid one by worrying too much about the other!). What is the ‘tricky’ thing overall is the ‘going out’ – the mission – because it is easy then to see other people simply as products to convert rather than as people to serve. I don’t mind talking about Jesus (!) but I am cautious at times about what to say – not because I don’t know Law and Gospel (I think I do) but because I’m not sure of the world view of the person who is talking to me. I’m not sure how they’re hearing me – what presuppositions they bring to this topic of religion, spirituality, and faith. Labels – Christian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, and so on – are signposts or indicators of the sorts of things a person with that label would usually believe. Of course you still have to see whether the person in front of you actually does believe the things associated with the label! That’s why, in my opinion, listening is almost more im-portant than speaking in mission (listening and more listening so the apt word of the Gospel – shaped to the person – may be said).
That apt word – said in love – hopefully personified in loving service – isn’t magic. The mystery remains that people can still reject God’s grace – push back against the Gos-pel – and say ‘No’ to Jesus. Of course we don’t want people rejecting Jesus for the ‘wrong’ reasons (the main ones often cited relate to the Church or Christians as hypo-critical, prestige conscience, controlling, and the like – some of which may be true and some of which is patently false). If people reject Jesus then let it be because they are scandalised by the cross – that God would die for them – that they are sinners and ac-countable to God yet he has rescued them. The truth is that as the world butt heads with Jesus, they find he isn’t going away – you won’t if you’ve risen from the dead! – and the Gospel is still there being proclaimed – even as the generations of Christians come and go. GS