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About Mark Craig’s Mission Sermon: questions and only puzzling answers

26 November 2013

scars (274x184) During MBC’s morning service on Sunday November 17th Mark Craig, Communications Director of BMS World Mission, preached a sermon that challenged the congregation to think about modern day slavery and the scars it creates. You can read Mark’s text by clicking on this link but here Haddon Willmer takes that text and offers it as a platform for discussion.

1         If a sermon is worth listening to for 30 minutes, it is worth having a text afterwards so that we can reflect on it and talk about together.   Agree?

2         Is this an example of a good sermon?  How was it achieved?  What is the craft?

3         Do you agree with Mark’s description and analysis of modern slavery?

4         Christians have long had an idea, with deep biblical roots, that sin pervades all the human world, all our activities and motives and relations. Sometimes this is called fallenness which  involves us all:  Romans 3.23.  No exceptions even for good Christians! Did Mark help us to see the present reality of these ideas in what he said about the building of the Commonwealth Stadia in India a few years ago and the work now on the stadia for the World Cup in Qatar?

5         Do we accept that we are not innocent bystanders in relation to modern slavery? We want this work to be done ‘for our enjoyment’ and if we ‘follow the money’ we can see we are at least indirect investors in it? (Or do we try to get out of it like David before Nathan landed his killer punch in II Samuel 12.1-15:  ‘thou art the man’?)

6         If this is where and how we are, what can we do? ‘Tears are not enough’. We can alter little bits of the world here and there, for a time, but the world goes on being what it is, fallen, doesn’t it? Stop one evil and another springs up out of the entrepreneurial inventiveness of human hearts, minds and social systems. So does this sermon present us with a moral practical challenge we cannot meet and satisfy?

Mark said: ‘We can end slavery in our lifetime if we choose to get involved. It is to the shame of the church that it still exists. And that’s one of the deepest scars that runs across our Christian family worldwide – that we know about this, and yet will not do enough to stop it.’     Agree?

7         But he also said: ‘by his scars we are healed’ – referring to Isaiah 53. That left me asking,   Are we ‘healed’? The world goes on being the same and we go on watching our football  – are we to say this state of affairs is ‘healed’? That is not quite the right word, is it?

8         As Mark explained this text, it did not seem to me that the wounds of Isaiah 53 ‘healed’.    Rather, his wounds remind us of the wounds, which are still being made by us as well as on us. They also point to the past and present of God in Christ who is wounded to the death by the world, in his struggle for the world against the world. The scars remind us of the strange love in which God gives himself, unreservedly, bodily, but for the most part, seemingly unavailingly. The scars point us to the weakness of God, as in Edward Shillito’s poem, Jesus of the Scars:

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

9         Is there a difference between being healed by his wounds and being reminded of the reality of the world and of God so that we can live with God in the light? Is there a danger that we want the sermon and the service to end on a more than up-beat note, with a decisive resolution of all our problems and so we conflate being reminded with being healed?    God’s wounds keep us seeking for healing not claiming to have it now, when we don’t.

Does Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s witness help us live with this question and this call which lies deep in the mystery of God in Christ?

All men go to God in their distress,
seek help and pray for bread and happiness,
deliverance from pain, guilt and death,
All men do, Christians and others

All men go to God in His distress
find Him poor, reviled, without shelter or bread,
watch Him tormented by sin, weakness and death.
Christians stand by God in His hour of grieving

God goes to all men in their distress,
satisfies body and soul with His bread,
dies, crucified for all, Christians and others,
and both alike forgiving.

This may be an unsatisfying, unsettling ending, but is it not truthful?  What can we say and do? Not ‘I am healed’. Not ‘we are healed’.  But ‘we follow Jesus, we stand by God in the hour of his grieving and….’?

Haddon Willmer – November 2013

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