Saturday, August 27, 2011

Getting to grips with the vision thing to turn the world upside down

Here's the piece from our church magazine that hits the racks this Sunday - for those not given to read print media or not able to pick up a copy because of distance from the building (forgive the parochial nature of some of the references....)

George Bush senior famously intimated during an election campaign that he didn’t get the vision thing. The Queen on a visit to the London School of Economics in the autumn of 2008, as the credit crunch was sending global markets into free-fall, asked ‘why did no one see it coming?’ Both those issues came to the fore in responses to the disturbances on London’s streets in August. Why did no one see it coming and who has the vision to lead us to a better place for all our citizens? Such questions will rumble on through the coming months.

They were questions that were probably being asked, though in different terms, in Jesus’ day as people responded to economic injustice and occupation. They were certainly in the mind of Luke as he told the story not only of Jesus but also of his earliest followers. It’s that latter part of the story that we are going to pick up in the autumn to see what it might be saying to us at this time in our city.

In particular, we will be looking at the subject of vision. The Acts of the Apostles is built around a number of stories where God’s people saw, heard and responded to vision. Indeed, the story that Luke tells in this second volume is not the story of a well-drilled army of people working from a plan to take over the empire. Rather it is the story of how a ramshackle band of people who loved Jesus were led by a vision from heaven to share the good news about him across the world, to found communities shaped by his values and welcome any and everyone who came to explore what the life of God’s Kingdom might be like. So, this autumn we’re going to be exploring these vision passages in Acts because we too want to be people led by a vision from heaven.

Which brings us back to this summer on the streets of London and other cities around the UK. The Queen’s question is a good one and lots of people have been trying to answer it and will no doubt continue to do so. But for God’s people it’s the vision thing that matters. We are not called in the first instance to respond to a set of circumstances on the ground. We are called to respond to and live by a vision.

As Paul told Agrippa ‘I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.’ That vision showed Paul who Jesus was and is and sent him on a life-long mission to share that Jesus with the Roman world. It led him to plant churches and proclaim the gospel in every city he visited. It led him to take up a great collection among the nations to take to the followers of Jesus living in poverty in Judea. And it led him to his death in Rome having first preached the gospel in that city for at last two years. Paul would not have been the man he became but for the vision from heaven.

And so it is with us: as we seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus in Bromley in 2011 and beyond we too need to see and hear and respond to the vision from heaven. All that we do as a church in seeking to embody the good news of Jesus in our lives and our activities needs to grow out of the vision from heaven.

The vision with which Acts opens is a vision of the risen Jesus telling his followers that the Kingdom will be restored through their lives of witness beginning at home and stretching to the ends of the earth. It’s the vision that holds good for us here and now.

If we want to respond well to the events in our city over the summer, we will be fired by this vision to make Jesus known in word and work in our community. It will mean that our programme as a church will be focussed on embodying and imparting the values of God’s Kingdom on the streets where we live and the places where we work.

Our neighbourhoods need to see that there is a way of living where all people are valued, where we can work together for the common good, where the weak can be supported, the fallen set back on their feet, the poor helped and the love of Christ shed abroad in all our hearts by the Holy Spirit working in, with and alongside us.

For this reason, we’ll be continuing to deepen our links with JusB and Street Pastors; and we’ll continue to explore the possibility of setting up a debt project with CAP, a foodbank with Trussell Trust and neighbourhood groups that will share the good news of Jesus with those around them through parties and practical action.

Paul lived in obedience to the vision from heaven and was accused by people in Thessalonica of having turned the world upside down. We too have the opportunity to be accused of doing the same if we too are obedient to the vision from heaven. Are we up for it?

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