As always, in the wake, or backwash, of a federal government budget, media pundits ask the question, ‘Who are the winners and losers?’
The measure of this is almost entirely monetary, as the budget also purports to be. The recipients – our community – are carved up into segments, called “stakeholders” or “interest groups”, and we contrast our relative fortunes. It has long been the process to present stakeholders as competitors for the budget bounty – pensioners, or self-funded retirees; big, or smaller business; middle, lower, or higher income families – often preventing our community from speaking with a comprehensive voice.
I was asked recently how I felt about the “success” of another Christian faith tradition, and whether that was a cause for concern for the Uniting Church. I felt concerned to think that this person implied I believe that the Uniting Church – any church – is in a competitive market place.
There is always the temptation to structure our faith communities in the way our wider culture understands itself. We live and work in the world around us, where language like profit and loss, market share and key performance indicators abound. We know that computer algorithms infest our internet usage, and that advertisers troll every click of our mouse.
The temptation, however, needs to be resisted. We are not in competition with other disciples. The desire to market the gospel will lead to a sickly, astringent imitation of the hope we have. It will lead to failure and despair. We are in community with other faith traditions, who are seeking to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and our discipleship is under his hand.
The desire to be parochial is a consistent temptation; I rejoice in being a member of the Uniting Church, but not exclusively. “I am the way, the truth and the life” are words that lie at the crux of following Jesus, and so many of us have designated ourselves as the crossing guards, or the highway patrol on this journey. What if we leave much of that to Jesus?
What if Jesus declared that to his disciples as an offer of graciousness, and not one of rigid control? What if the accommodation of God which awaits us has room enough for all? Imagine if the Father’s house to which Jesus refers is like C.S Lewis’ completed Narnia, which becomes larger the further you go!
It seems that the original recipients of Peter’s first letter to the early church might well have believed themselves to be in a church with boundaries, or internal fencing. Many of them seem to know what it means to be excluded, because of race, or background, or social status. Once again, the New Testament reminds us that we are one household, one community. The strength, or frailty, or sin of other disciples are our strengths and frailties – and sin.
The risen, crucified Jesus calls and confirms us; Jesus is our measure and in Jesus we find our identity. We are chosen because of Jesus, not because of us:
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.