Friday, December 03, 2010

via John (and Stanley)

During this week as I've been preparing for sunday morning I've been confronted by John the Baptist. Every Advent, there is John standing in our way. The church says to get to Jesus we have to go via John. John makes us uncomfortable because he doesn't avoid saying hard things. In a season where the pressure is to prepare the annual christmas talk about the love of God found in a baby's birth to those once-a-year-church-goers, John says 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near' and 'the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire'. Hands up who wants to the preach that! Where perhaps we want to wrap our message in shiny paper in a desperate attempt to be relevant and welcoming, John says its time to change our ways, our direction, our life because there is a new world arriving, which is coming with one more powerful than him with a winnowing fork in his hand. The advent carol 'On Jordan's bank the Baptist cry' suggests John brings 'glad tidings from the King of kings'. Well I guess so. Stanley Hauerwas (who has some similar traits to the Baptist) and William Willimon in their widely-read book Resident Aliens say this:
Earlier we noted how the church is dying a slow death at the hands of pastors who are nice ... Indeed, one of us is tempted to think that there is not much wrong with the church that could not be cured by God calling about a hundred really insentitive, uncaring, and offensive people into the ministry! [Me: some might be tempted to say we are not short of those!]
A better way is for us to be so confident that the gospel is true that we dare not say less to the people we are called to serve.
The church says to get to Jesus we have to go via John. So this advent season let us not avoid John and his hard words (if we think John is hard, it doesn't get any easier with Jesus!) and those of us who are called to preach and lead worship let us not airbrush John out of the way, but let him speak. To return to Stanley, the description of him by the magazine The Door in 1993 reminds me of John and why every second sunday of the church year we listen to him:
'Stanley is a loud, blustery, locomotive of passion for the Gospel; his eyes deep, intense, penetrating, full of sparkle and fire; his discourses passion-filled, spluttering with expletives, crashing into everyone else's opinion in the room, his thoughts thundering into your consciousness - sometimes against your will, often making you angry at his lack of ... well ... senstivity. And yet. And yet ... You realize this is man who is so in love with the Gospel - so in its grip - that he must say what he says or the rocks will say it for him. There is such clarity about Stanley Hauerwas. You have no doubts about what he thinks, about what he believes. And, there is no question in our minds that his clarity often leaves him alone, isolated from those whose ideas are of the mind and not of the heart. There are times when he spoke that a kind of holiness filled the room and you knew you were hearing the words of a prophet ...'

1 comment:

Jane said...

Thank you for this. I've been feeling recently that we should be more bold in so many ways, both inside and outside of church.