'Not for me' - on those critiquing Michael Curry's sermon
'Jesus was preached and the Gospel was heard, the crowd responded and the religious were too busy critiquing the doctrine.' Why the religious were the most offended by Bishop Curry. By Michael Shaw.
My background is in marketing, mostly events and direct marketing, but I toyed with PR. So while the church is involved in so many great things, like CAP, foodbanks, soup runs and foreign aid (most of which it would be better if we didn’t have to do), and while a Salvation Army band really does make Christmas extra special; I recognise we also have a terrible image. Paedophile priests and shouty street preachers are part of the issue, but the primary problem is that people outside the church feel they will be judged if they go to church.
Yet on Saturday something wonderful happened. Bishop Michael Curry grabbed his moment, and while some have said it was a little too long (13 mins) the response was mostly positive with twitter bursting into life with comments such as this:
“He was amazing. Even if you’re a non believer he could almost turn you into one”
Which of course has to be the point of any good evangelism, and it is what Billy Graham was famed for doing.
But the reaction by many Christians was sadly mixed. One comment from a friend of mine was this:
“Yet how is love defined? What difference does it make? How can I know this God? Do I need to change?....But seeing people go nuts as if this were some earth-shattering profound sermon? Not for me.”
That last point struck me, it was not a sermon “for me”. It was a sermon for those who would not consider themselves to be Christians, and it was not Christians alone that were going nuts, it was people like the person above, or Piers Morgan or Ed Milliband. Maybe because they had never heard the earth-shattering message of the Gospel of love before! And Bishop Curry was very careful to state who the source was, on many occasions.
We have become too used to preaching to the choir and so fixated on ensuring doctrinal correctness that we have lost the ability to speak the language of connection. People have never heard this love so well stated. We are all very keen to tell people that Jesus loves them, but we are not so good at explaining what that looks like, apart from dying for them, which for most people outside the church is utterly irrelevant.
The irony of some of the comments online by Gavin Ashenden or David Roberston, the religious attacking the man who preached love for his lack of correct doctrine, reminded me of the way the religious authorities treated a young Galilean: as someone to be critiqued.
For years we have misunderstood Paul when he said that the Gospel is offensive. Yes it is offensive, but that does not mean we have to make it more offensive. It is ultimately most offensive to those in the centre: most people who were offended by Jesus were the very rich, the very powerful and the very religious, and it was these three in the form of Herod, Pilate and Caiaphas who conspired to have Jesus crucified.
Jesus appealed to the crowd. The Ochlos, which we translate crowd, is best translated the poor and despised, people without a shepherd, who wander about unprotected and homeless. They followed him in their droves, but it was only when the forces of power turned the crowd against Jesus was his mission complete. The powerful often use the powerless to enable themselves to become more powerful.
Sunday was Pentecost. At the first Pentecost Peter preached a message to the crowds in Jerusalem. He preached Jesus, and the result was that people's hearts were pierced and 3,000 were baptised. Before too long the religious authorities got word and Peter and John were defending themselves.
We had a moment like that on Saturday. Jesus was preached and the Gospel was heard, the crowd responded and the religious were too busy critiquing the doctrine. No wonder people don’t want to come to church anymore!
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Baptist Church in Plymouth
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