A couple of weeks ago after i announced the series The Kingdom is Here: What Does it Look Like? Dave Perry posted this response entitled What Does the Promise of God’s Kingdom Look Like. Dave blogs at visual theology and provides some of the most powerful theological reflections on visual images from everyday life that i have seen.
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8:1)
As a minister of religion I have been proclaiming the good news for nearly twenty one years. During this time comments have varied from “seldom have I been so bored” to “that was wonderful”. I have transitioned from a full text sermon on a biblical text to a no-text series of well prepared but extempore reflections on images, flowing out of the lectionary texts, pretty much like the posts on this blog. Nowadays doing interactive visual theology with congregations is my preferred method of working in worship; being marooned in a pulpit delivering a sermon is not. But without the dimension of bringing the good news to life in my everyday ministry such proclamation is a half-hearted gospel. Liberation entails both action and reflection; hearing about it is one thing, experiencing its reality is quite another. Jesus brought both together seamlessly.
But on reflection it is not so much the proclaiming bit which vexes our churches today as actually bringing the good news alive within the communities and networks in which we are situated. The question of what the promise of the kingdom of God actually looks like in practice is a sharp one. Why? Because proclaiming and bringing is what Jesus did: in and through his life the good news was declared and grasped afresh, God’s kingdom was embodied and enacted. As it was for him it is for us: proclaim and bring. The proclaiming is the easy bit if all we are considering are our existing acts of worship. We can freshen, re-contextualise and innovate to our hearts content. Yet Jesus proclaimed the good news far beyond the synagogue in such a way that people grasped what it meant for them in their particular and specific life circumstances. Jesus enmeshed the good news of God’s liberating love right into the questions and struggles of those he encountered. People not only glimpsed what such liberation might mean, they were liberated.
Whilst we proclaim amongst ourselves we are challenged to proclaim beyond ourselves. Whilst we bringthe kingdom of love to life amongst ourselves we are challenged to bring the kingdom of love to life beyond ourselves. What do we expect to see? What images of liberation are at the heart of our proclaiming and bringing? As the always refreshing Christine Sine at Godspace says, “God is at work, God is moving in our world transforming renewing and restoring and we want everyone to know how and where we see that happening…..people today don’t just want to hear about the good news of God they want to see the ways in which it is being lived out authentically in our world today.”
Which is why these photographs jolt me back to reality and refuse to let me off the hook in ministry. The graffiti which covers the doors goes back over thirty years and spans the period in which I have been a Christian. In that short space of time Christianity has gone from being a natural life-choice for those wishing to change the world to a heritage option which betrays a lack of style and edge. God of course has been just as engaged in the suffering, torment and desire of the world as ever. The “I woz here’s” recorded on the steel sheeting portray a deep existential human need for our lives to have meaning – and this hasn’t changed either. It is our ways of seeing as a society which have altered drastically.
So the good news should not be padlocked up and chained away behind locked doors of stale religious traditions and dismissive postmodern secular distrust. In a poignant symmetry of need both the churches and society require the sacred to be unlocked and seen afresh. It is the task of proclaiming and bringing to make this visible in our time. And the good news is that this looks like Jesus. As we unlock the radical nature of his kingdom bringing life of love in ours and do as he did, the graffiti of the heart will declare God’s presence. God ‘woz ere’, is now and always shall be. Its simply a question of seeing where and how.