I have a new regret. I wish I had started our Curly Questions small groups two years ago. We’ve had four groups so far and we have wrestled with a handful of relevant and perplexing issues.
When we worked through some of our thinking on same sex marriage and the church, our primary concern appeared to be how we bear witness, show compassion and hospitality, and work out what we think in a world which has (or appears to have) changed phenomenally in the few generations.
We acknowledged the vast gulf between how our parents and grandparents spoke (or didn’t speak!) about these issues and how our children and grandchildren understand them. As law and culture shift – as they always have – we need to be able to live out our faith with grace and justice.
Our varied backgrounds and our current context affect how we think, speak and act.
How do we articulate the gospel in such a multi-lingual space?
One of our conversations this week was how we address Old Testament stories which are confronting, or even which we find appalling. There are stories in scripture which encourage violence, or appear to be unjust; laws which seem to make no sense, or to have less relevance, are all part of the biblical witness.
What do we do with these texts? Is it reasonable, or theological, to lay these aside? Where do we place our emphasis, and how do we decide?
It’s the challenge of finding our way, as disciples. One of our conversations was about denominations and how, when the Uniting Church was formed only four decades ago, most of the boundaries were firmly aligned and people’s faith traditions were inherited from their parents and bequeathed to their children.
Now, thankfully, many of the walls have crumbled; some of the more traditional denominations are unnerved and are resisting the need to adapt to a community where the role – and identity – of the church is changing.
So many of our conversations so far have been about how we live out our faith in our community, which is precisely what Jesus taught his disciples, and Paul emphasised to churches he pastored in vastly different communities.
Loving your neighbour makes sense everywhere, but loving your enemy when they are the occupying empire seems a little extreme. Forgiving once seems manageable, but 490 times might be regarded as excessive.
When Paul wrestled with issues like circumcision, or the role of women in the church, he tried to understand how to live the gospel in a foreign community coming to terms with a radical new faith discovered in Jesus Christ.
As we negotiate our way on the journey of faith, our first resource is always Jesus. We have the gift of the Spirit as we stumble and dance our way; what we once knew about denominations, or sexuality, or reading Scripture, or salvation, appears to be under question, or simply changing.
We will only find our way by trusting Jesus. Some things are certainly changing, some by culture, some by the impetus of God’s mercy. Sometimes we will need to stand firm and bear witness to a God who is with us, and who calls us to a rigorous discipleship in the face of challenge in the world around us.
We are in this path under the grace and mercy of God, in the company of saints and sinners, past and present and to come. We are called to be faithful: to live and serve as Jesus lived and served. And we have the gift of the Spirit, so that we may not lose our way.