The grief of this moment surrounds us. We cannot run from it. We lament. We slow down.
Reflections written by Jon Cornford and Rev Kim Beales.
By Jon Cornford
Many of us like to say that our hope is in Christ, but rarely is that actually true. The reality is that our hope often resides in a whole host of more tangible things that we rarely acknowledge: our health, our own capacity, our education, our middle class empowerment, our money, key relationships, a well-functioning government, a cohesive society, an ordered environment.
What happens when you strip away one of these things? What happens when you suddenly strip away a few at a time? The evidence of our churches is that all too often it precipitates a crisis of faith. It appears that the unwritten contract many of us have with God is that, if we are faithful, if we attend church, study our Bibles, campaign for justice and live sustainably, then all should go well with us. It is almost the opposite assumption of the early Christians.
We are living through a time when it seems like many things are coming undone. At the top of the list is a multi-dimensional global ecological crisis, with climate change as the headline act. Around the world authoritarian politics is on the rise and democracies are struggling, while the geo-political and global economic environment seems unstable and unpredictable. At the other end of the spectrum, mental health statistics tell us that people’s lives are coming undone at the most personal level. The COVID pandemic has been the icing on the cake: a massive disruption to people’s lives, and to a world already out of kilter.
These crises are obviously unnerving, and properly so. But the bigger question is whether they shake our faith in Christ or confirm it.
Much of the Bible is written to a people in crisis. In fact, our English word “crisis” comes from the Greek krisis, which in our New Testaments is usually translated as “judgement”. Crises are moments when pressures that have been building up over a long time come to a head, and truths that have been too long suppressed or denied burst forth in scary ways. Last summer’s bushfires were just such a moment in Australia: a time when our evasion and denial of the challenges posed by climate change exploded upon us in ways that demanded attention.
Whereas we tend to think of judgement as some final punishment, in the Bible it is primarily a moment of clarity and of choice. At one key point the prophet Jeremiah – known as the prophet of judgement – cries out:
The moment of crisis is a moment to look again and see how our past choices have brought us to this place. It is a chance to look deeper and see that the present course cannot be maintained, that a turning is required. That is, times of crisis are always opportunities for repentance.
The good news of Jesus begins with the moment of repentance. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt 4:17). We tend to equate repentance with feeling guilty and remorseful, but the Greek word, metanoia, means to have a new mind; a new way of seeing the world. It is by having our illusions about life and the world undone that we can achieve the clarity of sight that allows us to turn onto a new path: that of the kingdom. And always, that clarity of sight comes back to the same things: the brokenness of the world and of our own lives; our need of God; God’s love for the world and his desire to draw us into the healing of love.
In a deep way, the good news of Jesus requires that we are undone. “A seed must fall to the ground and die before it can bear fruit.” The gospel requires that we are brought to the end of our own capacity and self-sufficiency. It is only then that we see the healing of the world requires a different way, the
Watch this short video as Jon Cornford discusses the need for Christians to be “undone” and what that can open up.
By Kim Beales
From his home in Hobart, Kim Beales reflects on God’s invitation to ‘Be still’, in the midst of upheaval and turmoil:
From my home I can see kunanyi/Mt Wellington, the mountain overlooking Hobart, with the river beneath it. The beauty of the mountain lifts me daily. This enduring mountain reaches back into ancient times and makes our own lives seem fleeting in comparison. With all the tumult of 2020 I kept returning to Psalm 46 with its evocative imagery. There too we find a mountain, a city, a river, and the uproar of nations. Over the last year, I’ve felt that Psalm 46 was a kairos passage, in which God was speaking to the world. Yet in the psalm, the startling image we’re invited to consider is that of the constant and enduring mountain crashing into the sea. This is a psalm for when the world is falling apart. The hope is that even if the earth gives way, or the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, there is one who is even more constant, whom we can trust as our refuge and our strength.
This reflection is about being undone. Likely, you’ll have had times when you’ve felt undone as life’s normal rhythms came to a halt with the onset of COVID. I had my time on the floor during lockdown. Yet while I wrestled with grief, change, parenting and the challenge of reimagining church ministry within the confines of lockdown, I knew that people faced troubles far greater than my own. With loss of work and disruption to food supplies, I felt deep concern for people in contexts of poverty and for all who were displaced or unable to access medical support.
I give thanks for Tearfund. For me, it represents friends and companions, people I trust and love. I’m thankful that we can work together as we seek to live lives aligned with the kingdom of God. The community of people at the heart of Tearfund yearn for God’s justice on the earth. Yet we’ve all been disrupted, sometimes even in the good we long to bring.
What does it look like to be undone? To be undone requires letting go of our defences and acknowledging the truth. Too often we can be hard-hearted or resistant to hard truths. The story of David comes to mind. The king with a heart for God had lost his way. His life, both private and public, was a mess. From the comfort of his secure dwellings, he’d robbed a soldier of his wife, and then had the audacity to put that same honourable soldier on the front lines so as to try and tidy up his home affairs. Yet David is masterfully brought undone by the prophet Nathan. Something in David’s heart burned for justice, but he’d hardened himself from the implications of that justice in his own life. With daring storytelling, Nathan spoke truth to power, and David was brought to his knees. Likewise, when we dare to face the truth, we are brought into necessary lament. It’s out of lament that something new and beautiful might arise.
True greatness for Australia will involve freedom and hope for the First Peoples of Australia, it will involve care for the poor, the lifting of the marginalised, the embrace of refugees, generosity to neighbouring nations and ultimately in meeting and knowing Christ, through whom God is reconciling the world to himself.
What does it mean for Australian Christians to approach the theme of being undone? It begins with perceiving life truthfully. While I celebrate the view from my home, I often reflect on the horrors that have happened under this mountain. From my home, I can see kunanyi’s shadow fall across the city of Hobart and I remember the much graver shadow that remains over this city, the shadow cast by the murder of the First Peoples of Tasmania. Australia has much to lament. COVID has reminded us of our fragility and our mortality, yet humanity faces a deeper trouble than death. The greater crisis is of the fracture of our relationships, with God, with one another, and with the creation in which we dwell. Our country is in search of greatness, but we have confused greatness with self-interest, worldly success and a strong economy. True greatness for Australia will involve freedom and hope for the First Peoples of Australia, it will involve care for the poor, the lifting of the marginalised, the embrace of refugees, generosity to neighbouring nations and ultimately in meeting and knowing Christ, through whom God is reconciling the world to himself.
In 2020 it felt like the world was in uproar. 2021 has begun in much the same way. In Psalm 46, God not only addresses individuals, God addresses nations. God brings down kingdoms, and makes wars cease. There’s even the imagery of disarmament as God breaks the bow, shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire. In the midst of the noise and uproar of nations God says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” Will the nations heed the call of God?
In the New Testament there is another description of the mountains and the sea. This time Jesus spoke to a city that had lost its way. Jesus visited his city and found the poor were oppressed, the foreigners were excluded, and underneath the guise of religion there was a system geared on profit and self-interest. He cried for his city and while looking back at the mountain with the sea in view, he taught his disciples that by faith, they could say to this mountain “be thrown into the sea”, and it would happen.
As we face the future we need both images. We have extraordinary comfort that the world is in God’s hands, and that even in the storms and chaos of nations God is our refuge, help and strength. Yet, we also yearn for the kingdom of God and for the overturning of all that keeps people oppressed.
Jesus calls all people into repentance. Increasingly I’m growing to love repentance, because it is a hope-filled invitation to real change. God not only forgives us, but God’s Spirit enables us to live as new people. In Christ we are a new creation. As we explore this theme of being undone, we do so remembering that Jesus calms storms, cancels debts, forgives sin, and brings hope, reconciliation and transformation. This becomes the pattern by which we too are to live. To a world in much turmoil, God continues to say, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Listen to the song Kim Beales wrote in lockdown - “So, be still”.
Heavenly Father, while storms rage around us, we thank you for your promise to be our refuge and our strength, our ever-present help in trouble. We humbly acknowledge that we need you. We lament that our planet is suffering and collectively the world is stuck in patterns that keep people trapped in poverty. We confess that we too are stuck in these patterns. Please bring your kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. We’re sorry for the ways we are blind to your ways. We’re sorry for the attitudes and practices of greed, nationalism and self-interest both in Australia and around our world.
Thank you that you forgive our debts. May forgiveness and mercy abound in our lives.
Give us imagination, boldness and humility as we seek to live as your new creation. May you be exalted in the nations, and may your church be led in the way of Jesus. In his name we pray, Amen
The second Reset Faith practice is to be still. In Psalm 46 God invites us to be still and know God. One of the ways that can be helpful for prayer and reflection is to journal. You can read a passage and then to take time to write your own reflections and prayers.
Ideas for Small Groups and sharing the Reset Faith journey with others.
Transformation happens in community. Share the Reset Faith journey with friends, your small group, your tribe. Share a meal, speak honestly, pray together. Be changed together.
Kim Beales is the minister at St Mark’s Anglican Church Bellerive. He’s married to Kate, and father to Amelie, Zac and Jeremy. He loves songwriting, reading, food, conversation and getting out for a run. He’s also a cricket enthusiast who recently qualified to play over 40s cricket. Kim is likely to be seen most mornings reading, writing and reflecting at a café on Hobart’s eastern shore.
Jonathan Cornford is the co-founder of Manna Gum, “a ministry in good news economics”. Jonathan is currently undertaking a doctorate in theology; he has a PhD in Political Economy/ International Development and is a member of the Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy (RASP) at the University of Melbourne. Jonathan lives in Bendigo with his wife Kim, and two daughters, where they are members of the Seeds community.
(1) Image by tubagooba - https://www.flickr.com/photos/tubagooba/2656035626/, CC BY 2.0