“Who would want to live in that place?” or “Why would he give up all that he has for that place in that part of the city?” or “God would want you to have something left, to be comfortable with, wouldn’t He?” Those are questions that I imagine the people in a community might ask as they observe a person making choices that don’t measure up against the standards of society. Of course what the casual observer doesn’t realize is that by their willingness to ask those questions they are entering into the activity of the Kingdom of God. At least those are my thoughts as I read this very brief parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44) That non-descript field, that may have been on the real estate market for a while, is one that inspired joy because of the knowledge of what was to come. The temporal transaction was taken for eternal purpose which not only changed the life of this person but must also have had a direct and indirect impact on the community around him. “(The ParabIes) are about God and what God is now doing behind the scenes to change the world by bringing his royal justice to earth and what this means practically for those who embrace it.” (p.41, Parables as Paradigms for Public Theology)
This week marks the beginning of my fifteenth year of ministry with this same church family, in this city that has surprisingly become our home. In many ways each year has felt new. Each year has it’s own challenges and points of focus. Over the last few years I have taken to riding my bicycle around the streets (yes, even in winter). It provides a different perspective and provides unique opportunities in our community. There is much that is familiar, yet there is always something or someone new to discover. Every exchange is an opportunity to see the unfolding of God’s Kingdom activity at work around us. This week in two separate conversations (with people from other churches) this sentiment was shared: “We’re really good at talking about what needs to be done or what we could be doing, but we’re not so good at actually putting that into action.” I find that statement to be an all too often repeated refrain. Additionally, as preachers and teachers we can easily fall into an enabling pattern of providing more and more opportunity to think theologically, talk biblically, all while neglecting the importance of personal and corporate involvement in our communities.
If we say we believe that God is at work in our communities, then shouldn’t we learn to listen to what God is listening to so that we can join Him in the places He wants us to be at work in, alongside the people He is trying to reach? Instead, too often we, as those who are called to shine the Light of Christ, are to be found in close knit huddles within the walls and beneath the roofs of the buildings that have become like bowls, hiding the light from a world that is waiting to be shown the way to the Father.
Kathryn Tanner, in her book, The Spirit in the Cities puts it this way: “I want to concentrate on the human person who understands herself in relation to her community and to those beyond her community, a person who needs and is creating a different world.” (Loc. 1323, Spirit in the Cities) One of things that I am learning is that despite the fact that I have worked and lived in the same community for these fifteen years, it is only just recently that I am able to understand it and be accepted as part of the community.
Together as a church family, we are learning to listen to the needs of our community and to continually be willing to adjust our function, as individuals within the community and as a church, to meet those needs. In so doing we are recognizing that our Kingdom contribution to the excellent work done by our network of city churches is to come alongside those children and families who are in need. Some of those needs are financial, some of those needs are educational, some of those needs are physical. In small ways we are learning to shape our lives to what God is doing around us and as we do, God is providing ways for us to share the riches of His Kingdom with them.
This is where I see the benefit to the ideas of the praxis model of theology presented by Stephen Bevans (p.76, Models of Contextual Theology). “The praxis model understands revelation as the presence of God in history – in the events of everyday life, in social and economic structures, in situations of oppression, in the experience of the poor and the marginalized…We best know God by acting in partnership with Him.” (p.75) It correlates well with Stephen Garner’s hermeneutic spiral:
“What is at the heart of public theology is a community of faith, informed by Scripture and Tradition, which is committed to reading the ‘signs of the times’ and acting for the common good for society. Therefore, if we’re thinking about compassion in the context of public theology, we are thinking about how our understanding of compassion might be offered in distinctive and constructive ways so as to enrich wider society, help restrain evil and violence, and promote the building of communities of reconciliation.” (p.176, Garner, Public Theology Through Popular Culture)
Both authors encourage reflection on God’s Word and listening to the community, followed by discerning and engaging in action, while revealing God’s Word and then returning again to God’s Word:
It’s like finding your story in God’s Story and realizing just how joyfully captivating it can be to live (learning and taking action) in such a way as to illicit questions that direct people to the unfolding of God’s Kingdom.
- If you could be freed to address one issue in your community what would it be?
- What is one obstacle that prevents us from engaging our community?
- If you could how would you suggest moving through that obstacle?