Market is the Church Place

One of my favourite film series is Band of Brothers, which chronicles the experiences of a particular US paratrooper company in the Second World War. One episode ends with our heroes having survived a massive failed Allied offensive; they are then sent into what will become the Battle of the Bulge, unsure of what they will face.

As they march, in darkness, into the battle, a young officer remarks on the danger into which they are moving, “Looks like you’ll be surrounded.” Their commander responds, “We’re paratroopers, Lieutenant, we’re supposed to be surrounded.”

The question I am asked most about my role is, “What’s a Moderator?” and it is asked by both members of the community and of our Church.

The essential answer is that I stand in the middle of things, moderating the relationships within Synod, congregations and presbyteries; within our relationships with other faith traditions and our own; and between the church and the world within which we worship, witness and serve.

In recent times, we have been engaging in serious conversations within all these relationships. Many of these conversations are difficult because they have painful connexions with people we love, or because considering change is unnerving, or because they ask questions of a lot we take for granted. These conversations can also be tough because our lives and culture are tied to our faith, both helpfully and unhelpfully.

When we read Scripture, we encounter the people of God engaging with God in the midst of their lives. God is central to their struggles, to their failure, to their renewal and to the hope they hold, because God acts in justice and hope. The prophets are in the marketplace, disputing bad trading practices, speaking for the alien, the widow and the orphan, and challenging politicians and the temple.  

Jesus exercised his ministry in the middle of the community – Jewish, Samaritan and gentile – offering healing and forgiveness, proclaiming a new reign of God for whoever was thirsty.

The inspired apostles speak with priests and councillors, with slaves and textile merchants and gaolers, offering life, facing punishment and death. Paul argues in the temple and the marketplace, with anyone who was there, and he proclaimed the life and faith he had discovered when Christ discovered him on the Damascus road.

The marketplace (the Greek word is agora) is where we are supposed to be, engaging with our God and the world around us. The other day I was invited, with an Anglican Bishop and a Uniting Church Minister, to speak at the Parliamentary Inquiry on Reproductive Health Care. My colleagues and I were asked why we were there, and part of our answer was that this is where we are supposed to be, in conversations about human life and suffering and seeking to discover how God addresses our lives in all their wonder and their messiness.

We are seeking to discern God’s voice in scripture and our worship, and also when we bear witness about those human concerns – our worth, our purpose, our place, our wounds, our relationships, our hope, our healing, our justice – which are also God’s concerns.

We are called to live out our hope, and also justice; we are to call the world to repentance, conscious always of the mercy which has brought us here. Too easily the Church talks only within itself, refining its theology like fine wine that sits valuable and forever untasted. Agoraphobia must never be a mark of our discipleship. 

Our theology is founded on the One who was born, executed and raised; Jesus was involved to the full extent of our human lives. It is shaped and forged when we engage our community the way our great cloud of witnesses engaged – in faith and hope. And courage. It is refined by the fire and breath of God’s Spirit.

We’re disciples of Jesus Christ; we’re supposed to be here.

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