Redeeming the World
A comment made by a woman last Tuesday has stuck with me throughout the week.
She was describing an incident from Rundle Mall. A group of Asian lads were chasing another. It was a serious chase. The boy eluded them, but for a moment one of the pursuers stumbled and a long and dangerous knife fell out of his jacket.
This lady was appalled, and further appalled that there were no police to be seen anywhere.
Our discussion went on for a while until she said, ‘Oh well, we can’t change the world.’
What a thing to say to a Christian who believes in a life-changing, world-changing God. A Holy Spirit giving God who changes the world by changing people.
I think you have probably all heard the story of the tired father whose weariness could not keep up with the energy of his four year old. In exasperation he tore a page from his paper that displayed a world map used in an advertisement. He tore it into small sections and told his daughter to go away and put this jigsaw together, convinced he had 30 minutes of solitude coming up.
The bright little girl was back in three minutes.
Astonished, the father said, ‘How could you get that done so quickly?’
‘It was easy,’ she replied, ‘on the back of the map was a picture of a man and when I got the man back together I got the world right.’
This is God’s agenda exactly. Put people together and the world will come right.
But people say, ‘Well the Christian faith has been around for 2000 years, and we don’t see to be getting much better. We still have Kosovo and Snowtown.’
And yet where Christ is encountered in the human heart; personal and social righteousness, happiness and justice thrive.
Take for example what happened in Wales in 1904-1907.
100,000 people joined churches in six months. As a result, judges had no cases to try. There were no robberies, assaults, burglaries or embezzling. Nothing.
District councils met to consider what to do with all their now unemployed police. To fill in time, the police formed quartets to sing in church services.
Drunkenness was cut in half, and as a result there was a wave of bankruptcy amongst tavern owners.
There was even a slowdown in the coal mines, for the horses were used to being ordered about in profane language, and couldn’t understand the new language of the converted men.
Converted men returned boxes of tools which had been stolen from the wharves. Finally management put up a notice saying: Thank you for returning stolen goods. We have no room for any more. Please keep them.
There were new levels of moral sensitivity, with a 44% drop in the rate of births outside of marriage. When the person was put back together, the world came right.
We must never accept the fact that the world cannot be changed. Christ changes the world through changing people. And yet I had this phone call during the week from a lady.
She said she wanted to talk to me about a neighbour. She was sure she went to our church and she was having trouble with her. Now do I have your attention.
She complained that this person had made her children very angry, because when her kids kicked a football, sometimes it went over her fence and she seized the footballs, refusing to return them. Evidently, the children did not have the accuracy of Tony Lockett.
She couldn’t understand how someone who went to church could be so mean. I looked rapidly through our parish handbook and could not see the address of the accused lady but I worked out who it was and was happy to refer the neighbour to a nearby colleague.
But it was on the basis of what I had heard, a sad witness, not a Welsh Revival one.
It was like those Christians before Pentecost who had some kind of faith, but they kept asking Jesus silly questions in the moments they had with Him before His Ascension. They were a group of individuals with somewhat hazy convictions, but they were not yet a church until something happened that brought Jesus into their hearts as well as their minds.
Sometimes we can get the idea that the Christian faith is about a whole set of good ideas, wise concepts and thoughts for the mind to play around with. However, while the mind is central to faith, experience and personal encounter is at the heart of it.
On the other hand, if faith is all based on feelings and emotions, and never makes it to the mind, then a Christian will come up with all kinds of wacky ideas and homespun concepts unrelated to the Bible or our Christian theology or history.
The heart and the mind are always linked in a mature growing faith, like the one on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes to people to lift us out of an armchair comfortableness, self-satisfaction and belief that we have arrived.
The Spirit invades the recesses of the heart and mind and brings the life of Jesus to us. The Spirit is a gift from the Father and the Son to bring change and revival in our hearts. To move us from just believing in God, to joyfully loving him and our neighbours, blessing them as much as we can.
The gift of the Spirit is not just a once off encounter – it is to the soul what blood is to the body – oxygen to the lungs.
You cannot love God without the Holy Spirit and a church cannot worship without the Spirit. It will have no desire to serve, seek justice or see lives changed.
I was reading in one of my daughter’s essays how President George Bush had apologized for the US imprisoning Japanese people in 1941 after the Pear lHarbour bombing. It reminded me of the response of one family at that time who brought together a faith of heart and mind.
They ran a florist business and their major neighbourhood rivals were a Japanese family. When the latter were incarcerated after Pearl Harbour, a normal response would have been, ‘Wonderful! Now my rivals are out of business I will do really well.’ But that was not the case.
When the war was nearly over, and the Japanese people were released, they came back to where their business had been. They expected to see their site in ruins; dilapidated, neglected, abandoned. However what they saw was an open and thriving business.
It had been since they were taken away. Their rivals were Christian people for whom Pentecost had come. They ran the two businesses and happily handed over the profits to the tearful Japanese family who saw Christ in those people.
That is how we know Pentecost has come – there are not just ideas we agree with or concepts we accept, but an encounter with a living God.
Pentecost has come when we can transcend our self-centredness and love the Lord and the people He gives us. We can’t change the world, the lady was right, but God can, and has, and does through all who see Jesus not just as a prophet, but as a Saviour. Not someone to be admired, but loved. Not someone to be only read about, but someone you meet every day.
Jesus lives and so you too can live. He puts together all the people who will let him, and then changes the world for good – for ever.
By George Robert Iles