Monday, 8 May 2017


Imagine that a dangerous criminal had escaped from a nearby prison. The news is full of it, warning people to be prepared. They show a photograph and advise anyone who sees the fugitive to stay clear and call the police immediately.

Later in the day there is an unexpected knock on the door. It’s insistent and disconcerting. Your awareness is heightened and you leave the security chain on as you gingerly open the door a fraction. With relief, you realise it isn’t the escaped convict. The identikit photograph was of a young man and this is a middle-aged woman. She is obviously distressed. She says that she felt like she was being followed and had heard the news about the escaped prisoner. She asks if she can come in and call the police. Sympathetically you open the door and let her in, seeing too late the gun being brought up, ready to use. Your final thought is to wonder how you were supposed to be prepared when the person was so different to the picture.

When Jesus comes ‘as a thief in the night’, unexpectedly and suddenly, I wonder if people will have the same reaction? As church, we are ‘the body of Christ’. We are supposed to be the living photograph of Jesus. If we got people to describe Jesus from what they saw of church, what would the 'identikit' look like? A well-meaning group, trying to do some good with limited resources? An insular, fractious and judgemental group that lost any relevance it might have once had? 

Or would it look like Jesus - one who is self-sacrificing, willing to give up dignity and reputation for the sake of the poor and vulnerable. One who is willing to die for the worst of people as well as the best. One who despite betrayal, injustice and abuse cries out forgiveness. One who fulfils the heart of the law whilst dismissing the legalism. One who endures loneliness, despair and suffering, for the joy of restored, loving relationship with people. One who allows himself to be judged and condemned. One who speaks up for the oppressed. One who lifts others, who gets his hands dirty in the messiness of life. One who overcomes in the power of God and defeats, even death.

This isn’t a sideswipe at church from someone perched on their lofty, holier than thou, mountain top. I'm part of the problem. It isn’t a complaint against so many of the wonderful, Christ-like individuals who comprise the church. In truth, there is much to commend, both in the present and the past – a truth often overlooked by the media and hidden by people’s general disinterest. Yet the question persists in my mind. What picture does the world see, what image of God do we display? 

For those of us 'in' church, who have met with the extraordinary love of Jesus, how can we so misrepresent that passion, that person, by such a timid and tepid response? For the sake of those who don't yet know Jesus, how can we more accurately represent the one whose church it is? Doesn't it require something more radical than a slightly tweaked personal agenda? Doesn't it need an unbalanced, slightly unhinged, faith endued madness that is willing to risk everything for the sake of others? Can we truly represent a God who invades enemy territory as a baby and wins victory by being crucified, by living like everyone else? 

I know this heart-cry stirs in many -  the question is how, what do we do? Let's not still be asking the question this time next year.

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