Winchester Diocesan Synod Conference 2013 – Session 9
Session 9 is Bishop Tom Wright’s third session. This is a live blog – apologies for any spelling mistakes and/or typos.
Jesus’ mission – our living of Jesus’ mission – we’ve had a decade of mission shaped church, which needs an eschatology – what has God promised to do eternally. Otherwise Christians vary over what mission is and where it leads to.
The problem is since the Middle Ages the entire Christian discourse has assumed that the theory of eschatology leads to going somewhere else. What happened at the Reformation, a bunch of people determined to give biblical answers to the questions, but oyu can give biblical answers to the wrong questions. Justification of faith says no purgatory and if you have faith you go upstairs not downstairs. If Ephesians had been used the theory of going somewhere else would have been got rid of, and we would have been reminded of the last scene of a new Jerusalem.
Eschatology must be about new creation, the rescue and restoration of God’s creation – resurrection isn’t about how amazing he is, although he is, but the re-affirmation of the good original creation. Once evil has been defeated God can re-affirm the goodness of the original creation. Move away from that you take a big step towards to Gnosticism.
Rev. 21-22 heaven and earth coming together, symbolised through the marriage of church and Jesus. God wants community, the tower of Babel etc wasn’t entirely wrong. God wants a rich community – garden and city coming together. The city is the new holy of holies of the Temple. The symbolism of the presence of God in his creation, is to become utlimate reality. There is no sun and moon, so even great first lights are pointers to the new creation.
In the new creation there is discontinuity in several significant ways, but there will be much continuity, astonished and thrilled at all the beauty and life, but also astonished at how much of the old world will be re-founded. All our language about the future is a set of signposts pointing to a glowing mist. It is a symbolic language, iwll pets be in heaven, shopping in heaven – all of us are in a constant process of change – all our molecules change every 7 years – so we are like the curve in a waterfall – continuity in form, discontinuity in matter – we will be made more truly ourselves than ever before. Heaven is important but it is not the end of the world!
Rev 22:1-5 is where you get Genesis, Ezekiel, Ephesians: the river is flowing out of the city, out of the temple, cf. John 7 flowing out of the believers heart; tree of life growing either side of the river, fruit every month. The last scene is not a tableau but a project. People ask questions about suffering and wrath – the thing which is being said is that evil is a destructive force – in the new creation there is no little place for the serprent in the garden city. We downplay glory, we’re afraid of triumphalism, which is not in the gospel of the Messiah, but in Romans and Revelation it is clear GOd’s people are to be sharing God’s rule over the world – theocracy. The rule of God’s people is the as so thing.
We are not there yet, it can sound like I’m saying the world is getting better, we’re on our way, a realised eschatology. We know that the world is still a place full of groaning and sorrow. Rom. 8 picks up on inaugurated eschatology – the now and the not yet – you have to say both – if you say now you become proud and if you only say not yet you will become miserable. All the agony of the world, sea change of divorce and gender confusion – we should be people wrestling with these things too – personally and pastorally – not just sitting on the side.
The vocation of the church living the mission of Jesus is to be people in prayer in the Spiritt with the world in the places people are in pain. The heart surgeon – a wonderful title for God – the world, the church and the spirit.
Eschatology – God is building God’s kingdom in the world. No idea of progress or optimism. There is a firm basis but it doesn’t mean the world is getting better, we know God will do for creation what Jesus did at Easter, we are caught up inbetween praying for it, reflecting on Easter, but we don’t know when things will happen.
Stone masons in the Cathedral yard. Carving that stone, being instructed, but one day the master mason will gather the stones, and the stone mason will see his little stone meaning far more than he had ever imagined. Not building the kingdom, God builds his kingdom, we are building for the kingdom, on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus, with anticipation towards God’s final work.
1 Corinthians 15 – an exposition on the resurrection last 50 verses – which he ends v. 58 “in the Lord your labour is not in vain” – in the resurrection God will unveil that great cathedral he has in mind all along, what you do in the present – strange visit, awkward youth group, horrible committee meeting – the resurrection is the re-affirmation of every last thing you do in the Spirit.
Therefore, our worshipping life must fit this reality. Worship is not an escape – it ought to be a moment when and a means by which heaven and earth come together again. There are moments when and places where heaven and earth mysteriously overlap, our time and God’s time mysteriously overlap. We’ve become a bit rationalist in the Western world – so we screen out the heavenly dimension – so we turn it into words that we reflect on – equally not right to have airy fairy music that we listen along to. Tunes tell stories, the Bible is a story, a book of story, when you deconstruct tunes watch out what you are doing with the narrative.
There are a 1,000 tasks and none of us can do more than one or two. That’s why we have the body of Christ and why organised church for all it’s problems is it enables this. Projects grow not top down, but ordinary unsung heroes and heroines were saying prayers, going to church, and coming out thinking we should do this.
Jn 16:7-10: when God sends the Spirit, it sounds like some important work with rulers who are bullies and getting it wrong, it is great that the Spirit come and do that work. But Jesus is speaking about the Spirit that he gives his followers – so all of these are tasks that he gives the church to do in his spirit. It is part of our commission, and for the last 200 years because society has decided that politics is what the world does and we do faith.
Eph. 3:10 the rulers of the world need to know another king is in charge and his name is Jesus, cf. Acts 17. The dense paragraph in Jn 16 is classic “as so” passage when linked to Jn 18. When Jesus confronts Pontius Pilate they talk about truth, kingdom, power and more, Pilate kills Jesus but Jesus
If you are interested in political theology, if you’re not frankly you’re not interested in mission. My kingdom is not from this world – it didn’t start from here – but my kingdom is surely for this world. If my kingdom was from this world my followers would be fighting to hand Jesus over. Ironic that so many Christians are happy to use violence when it suits them.
Jn 14:12 – greater works – not sure what he meant, but we do know he did not mean lesser works. Sometimes we don’t want to say we can do it all. The Spirit will do it all, but he normally does it through people. This is how public truth happens. The reason people became Christians in such speed. People become Christians because of the community down the road, who healed the sick and stayed when it got tough.
Beauty, justice and evangelism need to be triangulated. God made a beautiful world, and has promised to re-make it. God is doing it through the artists, dancers, musicians. Bach and Handel still know the story of faith because of the Matthew passion and the Messiah. Justice – God intends to put the world right, can be negative, saying no to injustice, those who crush the oppressed. But if we are not in the church are struggling with those issues be it Syria or migration and immigration policy then the world can look to us and say new creation it looks like you’re not doing it. Doing justice in the community as part of the mission of Jesus. Healing of mind, body, memory, world is where the three meet.
Simply Christian didn’t do apologetics as there isn’t a neutral point for it. Justice and spirituality is in all of us – we know we’re made for relationships and yet it is all so difficult, we all know freedom is a good thing and yet no one has a clue what it really means.
The missional church doesn’t have answers in the back pocket to dispense. Because we have truth we don’t know it all. The Dr can help facilitate health and avoid ill health but they don’t own it, similar to us with truth. We need to discern where difference with the world is necessary – a gospel need.
In South Africa the expectation was a blood bath, and yet Desmond Tutu led the way in reading the bible and praying with leaders. Though it is still difficult, who would have thought we would have seen a black Archbishop chairing a truth nad reconciliation council. Why didn’t we do it in Northern Ireland, can we have something like this in the Middle East.
The church is to be a sign and means of God’s future. We don’t have to get it all right before God does anything – thank God. We are part of the process where God is recruiting image bearers – reflect my image to the world, and reflect the praise and groaning and moaning of the world to me – it will be tough – go through fire and water to make waves for the kingdom. It will be far worse than you fear, but far more glorious than you can even imagine.