Not too long ago, I wandered into a Christian bookshop in Glasgow to survey the second-hand books, and I spotted a title by a familiar name: Preaching in a Cultural Context by Martyn Atkins. A great read! In it he writes, ‘”So preaching that is ‘living-room’ rather than ‘classroom’, inviting dialogue rather than delivering dogma, conversing with ‘each other’ rather than addressing ‘you all’ is the better way in this oral/aural/visual event called a sermon.” Interestingly, Paul is doing just this in his sermon in Acts. He starts from where his audience (a group of Athenian philosophers) is at and meets them with the gospel of Christ. There is no formula for preaching the gospel, there is no quick offer of salvation, but there is a gospel to be preached: our challenge is to find ways to meet those around us with the transforming message of Jesus.
I’m a great admirer of John Wesley’s theology on prevenient grace: the grace which goes before and works in people’s hearts to prepare them to hear and respond to the gospel of Christ. When we proclaim, and people’s hearts are ready, the message is transformational. I ask myself, at this challenging time, are people’s hearts being prepared and are they beginning to ‘grope’ for God? If they are, we must be prepared to tell them the good news!
Because we understand that we’re made in the image of God, it’s easy and tempting to reverse this and make God in our image. Katherine Sonderegger, in her Systematic Theology, claims we have done just this with how we understand God’s power. There’s been quite a revival of Marvel comic characters in film and TV recently— a human desire for someone to swoop in, defy the laws of science and save the day. It’s an appealing notion, but when we apply this to God, we miss the point of how God relates to the world. God is the source of all that is, is present in everything, and is nudging us through the Holy Spirit. But God has gifted us life in all its depth. In Christ, we see not a superhero, but a suffering servant, who comes to dwell in the world alongside us, not to swoop in, but to show the power of love—and we are partakers in that love when we love each other.
(1 Peter 3:15)
‘Why do you even bother going to church?’ A question I’ve heard a few times and not an easy one to answer. It’s easy to offer some trivial response that might be acceptable to the world: the people are lovely, I like the music, they make a good cup of tea… but it doesn’t do justice to the real message of Jesus. However challenging it is, we must be bold in being real about the hope we have found in Jesus and the love we know in God.
(1 Peter 3:14)
In my Western context, I’m fortunate that I do not have to suffer for going to church, the most I get is people thinking I’m delusional for believing in God. Even so, whatever the extent of our suffering, ridicule, misunderstanding for being disciples of Jesus, we are blessed when we remain faithful to the reality of God’s love in a context where it is not popular to do so.
(1 Peter 3:16)
I can think of no better examples than Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. They were adamant, in their opposition to injustice, that they were not going to stoop to the level of their oppressors. Through nonviolence, they resisted. Through their good conduct they changed, not only their immediate situations, but the world forever. When we are faced with injustice, we shine our light into the world and keep our consciences clear when we do what is right in the right way.